Enthusiasm, commitment and desire.
These are the three things Mark Aston says fans can expect from Sheffield Eagles in 2021 as the club begins the process of rebuilding a squad that can solidify its status as one of the Championship’s elite.
A little over a decade ago, Aston started to assemble a squad that would eventually go down as one of the Championship’s greatest ever.
Ultimately, his side became the first to ever win back-to-back Grand Finals at this level, winning the competition in both 2012 and 2013.
Now, the start of that journey is in the works once again.
“In 2019 we had a year of consolidation and a good year,” says Aston.
“That brought stability, but we want the success we had before. I’m a big believer that you need continuity and recruitment of the right personnel to do that, and we’ve brought in players who we want to be a part of our journey for the next five years.
“I speak a lot about the group that went back-to-back, but people forget that it was built over several years.
“We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. To do that, we have to develop and progress the players as coaches, but mix that with senior players.
“The reality is that not every player will hit the standard of the Championship. As long as we make them better players and people, then we will have had an impact on them. We’ve signed ten or twelve players, and if six to eight can go to that next level with us, that will be great. But do I expect them to be ready? No. They might be coming to me as a centre and I’m thinking they’re a backrower, and I’m willing to give them two or three years to develop into that player. We won’t just flick them off because they aren’t the finished product here.”
The perennial challenge for the Eagles this year will be juggling the desire to provide opportunities with the need to win games.
An influx of young talent to the club will be complemented with the front-line performers who secured the Eagles a sixth-placed finish and memorable 1895 Cup victory at Wembley in 2019. The likes of Scott Wheeldon, Matty James, Joel Farrell and Rob Worrincy will be among those expected to lead from the front while aiding the development of the youngsters earning their stripes.
“I’m harder on the seniors than the juniors as they know the standards,” says Aston.
“The juniors need a bit of education. Is our environment different? Probably. They need time to get used to that.
“We’ve got a 30-man squad this year; I’ve never had that before. In our 1 to 17, there are some quality players who have played at this level consistently and who know what it’s about.
“But as you say, the big question is how do you develop these players while winning games. You have to pick the games and drop them in, and then set them realistic and achievable goals.
“I’ll always ask a player how many games they expect to play. If they say them all, you may need to realign that. If you get one to five in the first year, that’s a massive tick, then it’s five to ten, then ten to fifteen and then they’re ready for it week in, week out. Anything beyond that is a massive bonus.
“It can be done. Blake Broadbent played seven in his first year then 20-odd games the next, and he’s now played 30-odd Championship games.
“It’s a tough league, we’re under no illusions that we have to win games while we’re developing. It will be difficult, but I’m a believer.
“These kids want to develop and are doing so with their mouths wide open to get as much info as they can. That’s coaching and why we love it.
“Will they be perfect? No. Will they become better? Yes. If so, we’ll have progressed on and off the field.”
Sheffield Eagles 2021 squad numbers: 1 Josh Guzdek, 2 Rob Worrincy, 3 Connor Bower, 4 James Glover, 5 Ryan Millar, 7 Anthony Thackeray, 8 Scott Wheeldon, 9 James Davey, 10 Matt James, 11 Brad Knowles, 12 Joel Farrell, 13 Aaron Brown, 14 Greg Burns, 15 Oliver Davies, 16 Robbie Ward, 17 Frankie Mariano, 18 Tyler Dickinson, 19 Blake Broadbent, 20 Paddy Burns, 21 Rory Dixon, 22 Izaac Farrell, 23 Harry Tyson-Wilson, 24 Ryan Johnson, 25 Jordan Bull, 26 Chris Ball, 27 Travis Corion, 28 Jack Render, 29 Mike Adlard, 30 Bobby Tyson-Wilson.
Ins: Mike Adlard (Rugby union), Chris Ball, (Free agent), Jordan Bull (Castleford Tigers), Travis Corion (Huddersfield Giants), Tyler Dickinson (Batley Bulldogs), Ryan Johnson (Free agent), Jack Render (Featherstone Rovers), Bobby Tyson-Wilson (Free agent), Harry Tyson-Wilson (Free agent)
Outs: Corey Makelim (Released), Zack McComb (Halifax), Lewis Taylor (Released), Menzie Yere (Released)
Head coach: Mark Aston