Sheffield Eagles: Back from the brink and ready for the new season

Mark Aston
Mark Aston

Sheffield Eagles are the very definition of a club that rolls with the punches.

And boy have they had some heavy shots landing on their collective chin over the last 12 months.

Belle Vue in Wakefield where the Eagles will play their home games this season

Belle Vue in Wakefield where the Eagles will play their home games this season

Withdrawal of benefactors and the on-going battle to build a home within Sheffield saw the club limp their way through the final few months of last term and into the closed season.

No home base and concerns over funding put the very future of the club in serious doubt.

Yet, from the very edge of oblivion, they have survived and are ready to begin the new Championship campaign this weekend.

Funds have been committed and a temporary home has been secured, albeit in exile at Wakefield Trinity’s Belle Vue stadium.

But the Eagles remain alive, much to the relief of Mark Aston, the heart and soul of the club.

“It came very close to being all over,” head coach Aston told The Star.

“The issue was the lack of movement on a stadium and people pulling out.

“That is what put us in jeopardy. We didn’t have massive debts at any stage.

“The club could have gone into administration. People thought we needed to start all over again, clearing contracts, getting rid of players, like Bradford have.

“But we didn’t want that.

“Sheffield Eagles have never not paid a debt or a bill and we didn’t intend on that being the case.

“It’s certainly been tough but we’ve found a way of not doing the thing we always said we wouldn’t which is going into administration or liquidation.

“I’m immensely proud that we’ve stuck to that.

“Would it have been easier? Yes it would, but I couldn’t have looked people in the face because of what we’ve always been committed to do.”

Such battling pride and fierce determination has driven the Eagles through the toughest of tough times and Aston very much leads the way on that front.

A switch to a part time operation from the full time one of last season has been key to the club’s survival.

And that they are in any real shape for the season opener at Oldham tomorrow is down to a core group of players accepting that switch rather than looking elsewhere.

Aston said: “I can’t speak highly enough of the players who were full time last year who have stayed here part time.

“I’m really indebted to the 11 that stayed because it helps me and helps the club have a bit of stability in the group.

“Having that nucleus of a squad kept us going. Without it, we’d have been starting again like we did 17 years ago after the merger with just me.

“We didn’t have to sink back to those depths and we’re in decent shape.”

Given the troubles of pre-season and the fact new arrivals and retained players have been hastily confirmed over the past few weeks, the Eagles have been tipped for a season of struggle, or even an unthinkable relegation.

But Aston insists they should not be written off just yet.

“When everyone writes you off and no one gives you a chance, that can kick you on,” he said.

“Among ourselves we’re in it to win it. We have to be realistic but we want to win every game.

“Can we? We’re capable of it but will we? All I can say is that we prepare to win every game. We need to get as close to that top end as we can.

“We’re alive and everyone is happy that we are but as coaches and players, we want to be successful.

“As much as last year was doom and gloom, we still got to the Grand Final. We lost but we finished the season with an appearance in a final and that’s certainly where we want to be challenging again this year.”

Given the rapid manner in which the squad has been put together, Aston admits his side is not in the ideal shape to start the season at Oldham on Sunday.

But he says there is a collective determination by staff and players alike to get the campaign off to a strong start.

He said: “There’s been some dark days in the last so many months but we’re here now, we’re excited and the players are up for it.

“They’ve had a couple of run-outs in preseason that haven’t been great but they’ve blown the cobwebs off and it starts now.

“Is the group totally where we want it to be? No.

“It is totally gelled together? No.

“We’ve only had a bit of time together but that’s going to be better over the next few months.

“We’re certainly going to be ready for this challenge. It’s going to be a tough one.

“But it’s cometh the hour, cometh the man I suppose.”

Would you really expect anything less?