The journey begins again: The Dons and Paul Cooke

The Dons new signing and former Super League player Paul Cooke, pictured with Carl Hall, and Tony Miller.  Picture: Liz Mockler D1571LM
The Dons new signing and former Super League player Paul Cooke, pictured with Carl Hall, and Tony Miller. Picture: Liz Mockler D1571LM

LAST year, Doncaster RLFC found themselves subject of national headlines for all the wrong reasons.

But last week, the Dons returned to national consciousness on a much more positive note as they completed possibly the most ambitious signing in the club’s storied history.

That signing knows all about being the subject of headlines, good and bad.

Paul Cooke was once described as ‘possibly the most talented player in Super League’ by Australian great Andrew Johns.

However, the 30-year-old is unfortunately perhaps better known for his off-field antics.

Engineering a move from Hull FC to bitter rivals Hull KR and a drink-driving conviction put black marks against Cooke’s name.

But those past indisgressions have not detracted from the positivity of his new, ambitious working relationship.

Both Cooke and the Dons are looking forward rather than back, and both parties have a great deal of ambition.

For the Dons, anything less than promotion this season will represent major failure and likely see the club scale back as an operation.

However, they showed no sign of pressure last weekend as they kicked off their pre-season preparations with a comfortable win over a side they hope to join in the Cooperative Championship next term.

The Dons are not known for making a big deal out of things so a press conference is something out of the ordinary.

They chose such a forum to unveil Cooke, introduced by chief executive Carl Hall: “We’re very honoured to have Paul come and play for Doncaster with us.

“I think it’s a huge signing for us.”

For Cooke, he feels Hall has handed him the chance to give back to a game he feels indebted to.

His arrival at the Keepmoat brought to an end a self-imposed 15-month exile from rugby league.

He stayed away from the game he has played from the age of eight for more than a year to distance himself from the controversial figure he had become.

Though he hit ‘rock bottom’ both emotionally and professionally, time with his family and the sad death of his mother has helped change Cooke for the better.

Yet, before he was contacted by Hall with the opportunity to play again, alongside a place in the Dons’ lauded community programme, Cooke did not intend on returning to rugby league.#

* For more on this huge signing, including words from Paul Cooke and Tony Miller, see this week’s Free Press, out now.