THE harsh reality of the Championship season kicks in for Sheffield Eagles at the weekend.
An opening game against Widnes Vikings is about as tough as it gets for an Eagles’ team that still looks like a work in progress.
The Vikings are unbeaten in all competitions and the club is expected to be awarded a Super League franchise for the 2013 season.
“Widnes have been putting some good results together – they beat Featherstone the other week – so will be on top of their form,” said coach Mark Aston.
“You’d expect Widnes to be challenging for the league – we want to be there as well so we have to match teams like Widnes.”
Aston faces selection problems with Papua New Guinea centre Menzie Yere sidelined after picking up a one-match ban for a high tackle in the defeat by Hunslet two weeks ago.
That’s balanced by the arrival in the UK today of new signing Quentin Laulu-Togagae and the Samoan international utility back will go straight into the squad.
A result on the field is important but the focus will also be on the attendance at Bramall Lane, on Sunday (kick-off 3pm). The game is the first of eight the Eagles will play at Sheffield United’s ground this season.
The crowd should be boosted by Widnes’s travelling fans but the Eagles need to show they are starting to attract new fans after attendances well below four figures at the three opening games at Don Valley Stadium.
Only 350 turned up for the third round Challenge Cup game against Leeds Met University but they were treated to 15 tries in a near-record 82-0 win for the Eagles.
Half-back Simon Brown’s kicking game gave the Eagles a better balance and with Alex Szostak back from injury and Joe Hirst continuing his good form the pack was strong.
Aston felt his team had put in a ‘professional performance’ and had kept to the game plan.
The Eagles will wear a playing strip with the slogan ‘Homophobia: Tackle It!’ in Sunday’s game.
The kit is sponsored by the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual) History Month and Pride Sports to help support equality and diversity within rugby league and all sport.