Thursday, 26 April 2018

Sunday's Coming: Sheffield Eagles

We never had North Queensland Cowboys second-row Jason Taumalolo down as a philosopher - but this week he spoke on the subject of doubt. Describing his personal turmoil arising from his side’s winless start to the season, he said: “After five losses you start to wonder what you are doing wrong. You start to question whether you are playing good enough footy to be at the top grade level.”

For the avoidance of doubt: if ever there was such a thing as a ‘must win’ game, Sunday’s outing v Sheffield Eagles is it.

Sheffield have been scrapping it out with Hornets and Swinton this season - their two wins over both giving the Eagles a slim advantage.

But last time out at home they were brutally flogged 72-20 by a resurgent Leigh - shipping 50 points in a disastrous first half.

Sheffield have hardly pulled up trees this season - and their primary strike weapon Garry Lo has finally (it seems) buggered off to Castleford, only to be stood down as he ‘assists police with an enquiry’ - which removes a key danger-man.

This means that our one to watch is Eagles’ new full-back Corey Makelim. The former Parramatta Eels Holden Cup player comes with some decent shop-floor experience, having played for Guildford, Cabramatta and Mounties in the Ron Massey Cup, and for Cabramatta and Mounties in the Sydney Shield (weighing in with 10 tries at the Aubrey Keech Reserve last year). Makelim also appeared for USA in last year’s World Cup. He made his Sheffield debut against Leigh a fortnight ago.

Makelim comes into a side struggling to find its rhythm - Eagles coach Mark Aston having singled out the lack of consistency from his senior players as a key factor in his side’s ordinary showing this season. Another is the growing divide between the big-spending clubs at the top of the Championship and the ‘have nots’ at the bottom end. We’ve often tagged Aston as a bloke who talks sense, and his interview in the Sheffield Star last week underlines our opinion.

- On the cashed-up clubs at the top: “When you invest the money that some of the clubs in this league have, you’d expect there to be a divide. There are four or five teams up there, the likes of Toulouse, Toronto, London and Leigh - they are all full-time. They are getting more in one day than we get in a week.”

- On their profligate spending habits: ”Some of those teams may be paying one or two players more than we are paying our entire squad.”

- On Championship survival: “What we are doing is being realistic. We are fighting at that bottom end, there is no doubt about that. We are fighting for our survival, and that is important for people to understand. It is hard, it is tough.“

- On the continual battle for success: “We have plenty of things off the field going in the right direction, and some things that we need support for. There is certainly a scrap on at the bottom end of the Championship and we just need to make sure that we survive and that is the key.”

All of which sounds eerily familiar to everyone at Hornets, who face the same challenges.

Indeed, last weekend’s performance at Whitehaven was ‘challenging’ to say the least. It wasn’t so much the defeat (as Dewsbury can testify) as the manner of it. Not so much a test of belief, more an act of apostasy.

Having reached what Alan Kilshaw described as a ‘our lowest point’, Sunday sees the start of the crawl back to some form of redemption. We read much in sport about how we shouldn’t worry about results - get the performance right and the results will come. But Hornets need a win like oxygen at the moment: by any means possible.

We’ve quoted author/thinker James Baldwin here before (he has an incisive view on the human condition) and he says: “There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.”

See you Sunday.