GARETH WALKER of League Express looks at the remarkable start to the season by Championship side Sheffield Eagles.
JUST three rounds into the new Championship season and only two of the 14 clubs are undefeated – with one of those being Sheffield Eagles.
After a disappointing 2018 campaign which coach Mark Aston refused to shy away from, the Eagles have burst out of the blocks by demolishing Swinton, earning a gritty win at Barrow and then seeing off promoted Bradford last weekend.
That may have surprised some, but not after take a quick glance down Sheffield’s team sheets this year.
Aston brought in seasoned Championship campaigners like halfbacks Anthony Thackeray and Pat Walker – who has returned to the club having won Grand Finals there before – and forwards Aaron Brown and Joel Farrell.
They also signed developing younger players such as Bradley Knowles and Josh Guzdek looking to take the next steps in their careers, the kind of players that Aston relishes working with.
Former Featherstone backrower Knowles provided one of the stories of last weekend when his coach revealed after the Bulls win that he had played with a cracked rib and was then going straight to working on the roads.
Throw in the best of the Class of 2018 such as Matt James and Oliver Davies, and it shouldn’t be difficult to see why the Eagles believe they can challenge the top sides in this competition in 2019.
“We have won three games on the bounce and they’ve all been different wins,” Aston said after the Bradford win.
“The first one (Swinton) was quite comfortable and we took them to the cleaners.
“Barrow was a tough grind and Bradford was about composure and hanging in there.
“I asked them to show me a defensive attitude and I thought we got that.
“I’m over the moon as they are working hard, they’re a tight-knit squad and they are playing for each other.”
Those comments come in marked contrast to Aston’s references to 2018, where he was frustrated by the make-up and attitude of parts of his squad.
Now he has a newly-moulded team that is showing excellent early signs.
Their undefeated record would have faced a stern test this weekend when they were due to travel to relegated Widnes Vikings, who themselves have already beaten Halifax and Toulouse.
But sadly that game has been postponed because of the financial uncertainty that has hit the Vikings, meaning the Eagles will have an unwelcome free weekend.
Despite that, the Championship is shaping up to be a terrific competition in 2019, and whatever the result would have been in the postponed game at the Halton Stadium, expect Sheffield to be closer to the top than then bottom come the end of the campaign.
Gareth Walker writes his weekly Championship Focus column in League Express, available every Monday.