SHEFFIELD Eagles ability to defend their Championship title faces its toughest test tonight (Thursday) against Featherstone Rovers.
Rovers are unbeaten this season and seeking to avenge last year’s Grand Final defeat at the hands of the Eagles.
There’s more than bragging rights at stake with the Eagles taking over top spot in the league if they win and deny Rovers a losing bonus point.
The game has come at the right time for Eagles coach Mark Aston with his team impressive in winning 40-18 at Leigh to extend their winning run to five games.
“There are the games you want to play in and Featherstone is definitely one,” he said. “We’ve been improving that little bit each game and the lads raised the bar at Leigh.
“This is the game against the two of the contenders for the title.
“We didn’t get beaten by Fev last year, and they’ll still be smarting after the Grand Final.”
Aston knows that his former Eagles team-mate and Rovers coach Daryl Powell will bring a team on the top of their game.
He added: “I watched Featherstone score 50-odd points at Keighley last week. They were outstanding but so were we at Leigh. It’s two teams playing exciting rugby.”
Tonight’s game (kick-off 7.30) has been switched to Don Valley Stadium to give Bramall Lane a respite for the winter weather.
Prop forward Ben Gledhill, signed on a month’s loan from Super League club Salford Reds, may make his debut tonight. The 23-year-old could come in for Liam Higgins who damaged an ankle at Leigh.
The Eagles geared up for Featherstone with an impressive win at Leigh. They soaked up early pressure before four tries – two from Quentin Laulu-Togage and one each for Joe Hirst and Menzie Yere - gave them a 24-0 lead at half-time.
Tries from Tom Armstrong, Scott Turner and Misi Taulapapa wrapped up the win with Dominic Brambani kicking seven goals from eight attempts.
Aston said: “The first 40 minutes, we played the way we’ve been talking about for a time. We took our chances and played smart. Defensively any team that stops the other scoring for 40 minutes is good.”
Eagles have been drawn at home to National Conference Division Two amateurs Leigh East in the third round of the Tetley’s Challenge Cup.
Doncaster face a trip to Championship One team South Wales Scorpions. The ties will be played on the weekend of April 6 and 7.