THE Dons must do without talisman Paul Cooke as they make another attempt to be crowned Championship One champions.
Influential stand off Cooke has been ruled out for 12 weeks after breaking his kneecap in two places during the narrow defeat to Barrow last weekend.
Cooke received the ball from the kick off at the start of the game and was immediately clattered by the Barrow chasers.
Head coach Tony Miller said: “Cookie is livid about it, he thinks it was a foul and the lad had no intention of going for the ball.
“Cookie having to go off changed things massively for us because with the composure he brings we’d have won that game.
“We went the wrong way a few times and didn’t expose their gaps – that’s the difference between Paul Cooke playing and not.”
The injury is a major blow to the Dons as they move onto their second chance to make the play off Grand Final when they host Workington Town on Sunday (3pm).
The play offs have taken new relevance for the table-topping Dons after they were informed they are not able to call themselves ‘champions’ despite the RFL initially congratulating them on the feat.
Instead, the governing body have awarded the Dons the ‘league leaders shield’ and ruled the winners of the play offs will be crowned champions.
Miller said: “We had an email from the main man at the RFL saying well done Donny on winning the championship and the next thing is they’re saying we’re not champions.
“If you get £50,000 for winning the league and you get £20,000 for the play offs, it doesn’t make sense.
“I don’t think the clarity was there, even the RFL didn’t know because we had that email.
“If he does that and he doesn’t know, what can you do?
“There was so much stuff in the media about it in the run up but no one from there rung up and said we’ve got it wrong until this week.
“But at the end of the day we finished top of the league for the first time in 61 years so you can’t be too disappointed and the lads are delighted with that.”
The hunt for the ‘champions’ tag suffered a setback with a 22-20 defeat to Barrow who now go straight through to the Grand Final next Sunday in Warrington.
For the Dons, there is a second semi-final game, with Workington the opposition after their quarter final win over Whitehaven.
Miller said: “It’s difficult because you’re playing against a side now that’s just won so they’ve got momentum.
“But although we’ve only lost three times this year, we’ve always come back really strong the game after so we’ll be alright.
“Ideally we wanted to go straight through to the final.
“But we’ve had two home draws and if we don’t get through with that then we don’t deserve to be in the final.”