Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Sunday's Coming: Sheffield Eagles

So, hands up - who's just a little bit excited about the impending Championship season?

Coached by Sheffield legend Mark Aston and assisted by Dave Larder and Keith Senior, Sheffield have proven themselves to be a side that punches above its weight and, as league runners-up and convincing grand-final winners last year, provide possibly the sternest test Hornets could face in this crucial Championship season.

One new Sheffield player who'll be delighted to see Hornets again will be ex-Oldham dual reg. centre Jon Ford who, alongside Will Hope, joins Sheffield on a season loan from Salford. Clearly joining a side that actually wins finals was an attractive proposition.

Sheffield's key threat comes from the eye-catching Samoan Quentin Laulu-Togaga'e. In 2013 he crashed in for a staggering 35 tries: making it 70 in two years. An amazing strike rate. But he's not alone in knowing his way to the line.  Laulu-Togaga'e shares the try-scoring limelight with PNG international Menzie Yere who has weighed in with 118 tries in 147 games since 2009. Scary Stuff.

Owlerton Stadium: How far to the touchline?

The fulcrum for this points avalanche is the halfback pairing of Pat Walker and Dominic Brambani - and the latter is a bit of a points machine in his own right.

Last season Brambani broke Mark Aston’s goals-in-a-season record set in 1988/89, bagging 168 goals +1 drop goal. He also smashed Aston's season’s points-scoring record of 307 points, scoring 361 points [38 games - 6 tries, 168 goals, 1 drop goal]

It's worth noting that Sunday provides a great opportunity to catch the back-to-back Championship champions cold, as their truncated pre-season programme could leave a side featuring plenty of new faces a bit undercooked. 

Last Sunday's last-gasp win at York has been their only pre-season hit-out, after a trip to play in France was cancelled due to an air-traffic control strike. In a game that York dominated for long spells, the Knights led led 18-14 with three minutes to go, but late tries from Conor Scott and Menzie Yere nicked a 24-18 win for the eagles.

Ahead of the York game, Aston said: “We need to get some of the rust out of the players who will start the season. The emphasis will be on getting them ready and looking where they are."

Aston took a 21-man squad to Monk's Cross - minus hooker James Davey (hamstring) and new recruits Ben Jones (groin) and USA international Lelauloto Tagaloa.

In a tiny, but interesting speck of Rugby League history, Sunday sees Sheffield's return to the 6,000 capacity Owlerton Stadium. Aston said: “The first game at Owlerton is important – it’s 30 years since the club was started there. We need to hit the ground running and win that first game against Rochdale.

It's reported that improvements have been made to the changing rooms and postage-stamp-sized pitch - which is out there somewhere beyond the speedway track, the greyhound track, three perimeter fences and a set of floodlights - but as a trip to Sheffield has always entailed a level of eyestrain (or binoculars), it shouldn't be much different to the view at Don (gone!) Valley.
Owlerton Stadium: view from the main stand
NOTE - the game is a 2pm kick-off, so don't be late!

Getting there

Owlerton Stadium 
Penistone Road
S6 2DE

From the North
Leave M1 at J36 (signposted Sheffield North) and at roundabout take 3rd exit A61. Follow signs for Grenoside and then Hillsborough. You will pass Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (on right) and the stadium is 1/2 mile further on the left.

Match Day Parking
Owlerton Stadium has over 300 car parking spaces available directly in front of the stadium. Car park is available for all supporters on match days at a price of £3 per car which is payable opon entry to the car park. Prices for coaches and minibuses is still to be confirmed. 

Sheffield's 2014 squad is:
1 Quentin Laulu-Togaga'e
2 Scott Turner 
3 Menzie Yere 
4 Jon Ford
5 Misi Taulapapa 
6 Pat Walker 
7 Dominic Brambani 
9 Andrew Henderson  
10 Mitch Stringer 
11 Michael Knowles (c) 
12 Peter Green 
13 Joe Hirst 
14 James Davey 
15 Alex Szostak 
16 Duane Straughier 
17 Liam Higgins
18 Will Hope
19 Jack Blagborough 
20 Ben Jones 
21 Matt Garside 
22 Lelauloto Tagaloa 
23 Matty Hadden
24 TBC
25 Eddie Battye 
26 Lee Sanders
27 Connor Scott 
28 Corey Hanson 
29 TBC
30 TBC
31 Tom Ashton 
32 Cory Aston