‘We’re punching above our weight’ – Sheffield Eagles pragmatic over positive start

Written by Adam Stanworth

Image Credit: Sheffield Eagles via Instagram

As the players trudged off the Keepmoat Stadium pitch following a 30-6 Challenge Cup defeat at the hands of York, the signs for the season ahead were ominous.

However, the pessimism that may have gathered in the wake of the cup exit was quickly cast aside as Sheffield Eagles set about re-constructing the narrative as the new Betfred Championship season got underway.

After playing just five games during the voided 2020 Championship season, Mark Aston’s side returned to league action for the first time in over a year in magnificent fashion with a scintillating display against Bradford Bulls.

Braces from scrum-half Anthony Thackeray, left-centre James Glover and loose forward Aaron Brown helped the Eagles to a 50-12 victory over their 2005 Super League-winning opponents.

This was quickly followed by a successful trip to York, where revenge for the Challenge Cup defeat was exacted as Sheffield ran out 20-14 winners at the LNER Community Stadium.

However, General Manager Liam Claffey admits that the two victories perhaps contributed to a degree of complacency.

“We put in a very good performance against Bradford and York but then we probably fell in love with ourselves a bit and came undone against Newcastle”

Defeat in the North East brought the winning start to an abrupt end as Aston’s side squandered a six-point half-time lead, with Thunder scoring three times in the second period to put the game beyond the visitors.

Nevertheless, the side’s ability to bounce back was on show once again last Saturday as they welcomed London Broncos to the Keepmoat Stadium.

A battling performance should have yielded a victory for the hosts, who were outstanding against their newly-relegated opponents, but a last-minute drop-goal from London’s Jarrod Samuel broke Eagles’ hearts.

However, Claffey has taken a positive view on the draw with the side who had been mixing it with the Super League big boys just six months earlier.

“At the start of the year, if you told me we’d have got a point against London, and even before kick-off to be honest, I’d have snapped your hand off.”

“The boys were disheartened but a point against London is great. Every point is crucial this season.”

Claffey heaped praise on both the players’ commitment and the work of the club’s backroom staff in going so close to beating a quality side.

“To nearly win the game shows both the commitment from the players and the work that’s gone in with the backroom staff.”

Crucially, Sheffield Eagles train far less than their London counterparts which meant that fitness was initially a concern going into the game, but it was clear that there was no such issues in this regard.

The last-minute heart-ache, however, now must be put to one side as attention turns to Friday’s visit of Batley Bulldogs who currently sit third and a point ahead of Eagles.

“We need to dust ourselves down and go again against Batley.”

“They’ve got some very good forwards, some great half-back with the likes of Tom Gilmore, so it will be a tough game.”

Gilmore, a Salford loanee last season, has played a starring role for Batley so far this season and was impressive in their last outing against Newcastle.

However, Claffey is hoping that his side can take the positives from last weekend’s performance and carry it into Friday’s clash.

“We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and keep working hard in these tougher games.”

“We’ve got to keep the momentum going.”

There is, of course, the tantalising prospect of a temporary jump to the summit of the Championship if they can beat the Bulldogs, but realism is the order of the day for the Sheffield Eagles.

“It’s an unknown season so we’re working week by week and if we can keep picking up points then we could be in a great position.”

However, early exits from both the Challenge and 1895 Cup have afforded the Eagles the unwanted luxury of a clearer schedule, so league success would be the perfect tonic to cup disappointment.

Despite remaining generally realistic about his club’s chances in the league, the Eagles General Manager did allow himself to consider the prospect of a successful season.

‘If we can knock on the door of the top six we’d probably be overachieving but again how fantastic would that be?”

“We’re punching above our weight at the minute and we just need to keep doing that.”

It’s been a good start for The Eagles, but the South Yorkshire outfit know that there will be no easy game this year and a tough season lies ahead.

Written by Adam Stanworth

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