Rochdale v Doncaster: Cooke aims to play his cards right at Spotland

Kyle Kesik
Kyle Kesik

Paul Cooke is a man to be feared when it comes to playing cards on the team bus.

But Dons’ player coach will be the first to admit that he is only as good as the cards he is dealt.

The stand-off is adopting a similar philosophy when it comes to injuries threatening to disrupt his plans to both retain a top-four spot and to make an impact in next month’s Championship play-offs.

“We are a little bit skinny on numbers but we’ll play the cards we are dealt and go to Rochdale and try to win the game,” he said.

Hooker Kyle Kesik and second-rower Mike Kelly joined the injury list at the weekend.

“We are not sure how long Kyle (broken hand) will be out but we’ll be missing him for an extended period that’s for sure,” said Cooke.

“It’s a massive blow. He is one of the co-captains and he’s a key man.

“He’s been finding some form defensively and getting stronger and it leaves us light at hooker with Scott Spaven being the only other (number) nine at the club – although Mike Emmett has played there a little bit.”

Adding to Cooke’s problems is the fact that Richard Wilkinson is still recovering from a recent cartilage operation.

With uncertainty surrounding Hull’s Jacob Miller’s availability in the coming weeks, Spaven is likely to have to step in again at scrum-half.

Second-rower Alex Starling’s departure to take up a scholarship in America has also served to deplete Cooke’s resources, although he welcomes Emmett back after a two-game suspension.

“We’ve just got to manage ourselves,” said Cooke.

“Whatever help Hull can give us we’ll take into account, if we feel it will benefit the team to make those changes.

“They’ve had one or two injuries themselves and (second-rower) Dean Hadley, who would have been eligible, is not available because he’s currently playing first grade and we understand that.

“Injuries are never good at any time but particularly when you are coming to the business end of a season because you want to take some good form into the play-offs.”

Sunday’s trip to Spotland marks the club’s final away game of the season in the league.

“It’s a nice pitch and stadium so there will be no excuses from us if we don’t play well,” said Cooke.

“They’ve nothing to play for (having had their relegation confirmed) but we are expecting a tough game.”