Aston set for Grand Final clash with ‘The Master’

editorial image

Sheffield Eagles can take a break from the hunt for a new home as they make a familiar trip to a Grand Final.

It’s the third year the Eagles have made the showcase game but there’s something different this time with Batley Bulldogs the opponents.

The past two finals have seen clashes against Featherstone Rovers - with the Eagles taking the trophy last year.

Batley under Eagles’ former coach John Kear created the shock of the play-offs with a ‘golden point’ win at Rovers in the semi-finals.

The Bulldogs had trailed at half-time but levelled the scores at 20-20 before booking their place in the final with a drop goal with three minutes left of the first period of extra time.

For Mark Aston it was typical of the man who was his coach when the Eagles overturned the odds to beat Wigan in the 1998 Challenge Cup final.

“John Kear is the The Master - he’ll have motivated Batley at half-time and made them believe,” said Aston.

“Featherstone were the favourites but John really prepares his teams for big games and we’re aware of that.”

Eagles will be favourites going into the Grand Final at Leigh Sports Village on Sunday (kick-off 4.30pm) which rounds off the Championship season.

Batley are the lowest ranked to team to have made the final - finishing in fifth place and lost both their league games to the Eagles this season.

Aston added: “Batley have done it the hard way - as we had to last year. They know how to win.

“We’ve beaten Batley in the league but this is a Grand Final. It’s going to be an exciting final, we won last year and all season our target has been to go back-to-back and be the first team to keep the trophy.

“I’ve got a great bunch of lads. Things are looking rosy but we need to keep our feet on the floor and there’s no point in going to a final and not putting in a performance and winning. We have to do the job at the weekend.”

Aston added: “It’s been a long year but we’ve had a fantastic year, the best season since we re-started the club. To top it off by getting to a third consecutive Grand Final you have to pinch yourself. It’s a massive compliment to the guys.

“I’m elated by the character, the will and the want of the players.”

After stumbling in the first round of the play-offs the Eagles have come back to form with impressive wins over Dewsbury and Halifax.

The semi-final at Halifax showed Aston’s team at their best as they weathered an early storm to take a 16-6 lead at half-time. Patch Walker scored two tries and a drop goal with Quentin Laulu-Togagae, Misi Taulapapa and Scott Turner each getting one and Dominic Brambani kicking four goals as they won 29-10.

The ability of Laulu-Togagae and Yere to turn a game could be the key to Eagles success against Batley with the pair scoring 79 tries this season, in 37 games.

A second successive Grand Final would strengthen the Eagles case for city council backing – as the athletics community have been given with Woodbourn Stadium being back into use.

With the bulldozers set to move in at Don Valley time is running out for the Eagles to find a base for first team home games in 2014 with Owlerton Stadium the club’s main hope.

Officials from the Rugby Football League made a fact-finding visit to the greyhound stadium – where the Eagles were launched in 1984 – this week. The next stage is to present a plan for work needed to meet the needs of rugby league to the council.

Eagles chairman Ian Swire said: “A feasibility study is ongoing but everything is encouraging so far. We’re close to producing the document to present to Sheffield City Council – hopefully on the back of a successful Grand Final.”

There’s a battle in prospect on the field against Batley but the decisive encounter for the long-term future of the Eagles in Sheffield will be played out in the Town Hall in the coming weeks.