Doncaster have dedicated their efforts to reach Super League this season to their coach, St John Ellis, who died suddenly on New Year's Eve. The former Great Britain winger collapsed with what is thought to have been a heart attack after leading his side in a pre-season training session.
The death of such an obviously fit athlete at the age of only 41 has shocked both his club and the wider rugby league world. "You wouldn't believe it," the Doncaster chairman, John Wright, said. "There wasn't a fitter coach in the game.
"He was a fitness fanatic who never asked any of his players to do something he couldn't do himself." Wright paid tribute to Ellis' work at the National League One club, recently renamed the Lakers, where he had become the longest serving coach in the professional game. "Singe worked selflessly for the club for five and a half years," he said. "He wanted to see the Lakers in Super League and everything I do now will be for him. It would be a fitting tribute to him for us to reach Super League."
Ellis first came to prominence as a versatile back with his home town club, York, but it was at Castleford that he played his best rugby. From 1989 to 1994, he scored 97 tries in 175 appearances, including a club record 40 in his final season, at the end of which he was put on the transfer list at £200,000. He also played three times for Great Britain against France during his time as a Castleford player.
He moved to Australia, where he played for the South Queensland Crushers in their debut season, before returning to Britain and having short stints with Bradford, Halifax, Keighley and Hunslet.
It was as a coach that he was to make his mark back in his homeland, however, taking over at Doncaster during the 1999 season and bringing all his natural ebullience to the task of making them genuine promotion candidates.
The club's history had often been marked by frequent comings and goings, but Ellis brought them a measure of stability and made them particularly hard to beat at home.
In the year he took over, Doncaster finished 18th and last in the Premiership - the single division then below Super League - making them the lowest ranked team in the amateur game.
Their improvement is summed up by finishes of sixth and fifth in National League One in 2004 and 2005 and competing in the play-offs that potentially open the door to Super League.
Ellis, with his infectious enthusiasm, was always adamant that Doncaster could compete at that level and was excited about the re-branding of the club and their move to a new stadium in the town. "He was a larger than life character who will be sorely missed," his Castleford team-mate, Lee Crooks, said.
He leaves his wife, Melanie, and two young daughters, India and Mia. Doncaster are considering the best way of commemorating his contribution to the club.Reuse content