Cooke poised to make Dons debut in Rail Cup

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FORMER Super League star Paul Cooke is set to make his eagerly-awaited debut for the Dons in their opening game of the 2012 season in tomorrow’s Northern Rail Cup pool game at Gateshead.

Cooke hadn’t played for 12 months prior to joining the Championship One club earlier last month and missed all three of the club’s warm-up games.

“That was always going to be the case because we didn’t want to try and rush him back too quickly after being out of the game for so long and risk him picking up an injury,” said Dons boss Tony Miller.

“But he’s worked hard, both with the rest of the lads and by himself, and he’s ready to play. I’m looking forward to seeing Paul play because I think he’ll make a big difference, especially after he has had time to settle in.”

Although the league is Miller’s No 1 priority, he is also keen to make more of an impact in the NRC competition than in recent seasons.

“I think we probably need to win three of our four pool games, three of which are are against Championship sides, but I think we stand a chance of doing that,” he said.

“Tomorrow’s game, on paper, looks to be the easiest but the first game of the season is always a bit of an unknown quantity.

“But I’ve been pleased with how we’ve looked in the warm-up games and the players have given me a bit of a selection headache. I’ve told the players that they’ll all get the chance to show what they can do.”

One man who is expected to feature at some stage tomorrow is Doncaster-born forward Mike Kelly. A close-season signing for the Dons, Kelly played for Gateshead against his hometown club at the International Stadium in the last league game of the 2011 campaign and caught the eye during a spirited first half showing by the home side.

“Mike played well in that game and I’m pleased to have him on board,” said Miller. “I’m sure he is looking forward to going back there.”

A pitch inspection will be held at Gateshead today.