How Eagles continue to defy the odds

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THE underdogs label has stuck well to Sheffield Eagles over the years.

It was perhaps appropriate that the club started life at Owlerton race track because it’s always been a race to beat the odds.

The Eagles created the biggest shock in Challenge Cup history when the ‘no-hopers’ defeated mighty Wigan at Wembley in 1998. Just over a year later it seemed the club would die after a ‘merger’ with Huddersfield. A group of supporters took up the challenge and created a new club that over 12 seasons has established itself one step below the Super League. It’s been a struggle and the move to playing the majority of home games at Bramall Lane has yet to produce a big boost in support. On the field there’s been success with an appearance in their first ever Grand Final when they face Featherstone on Sunday. At the start of the season you would have got pretty good odds against the Eagles making the Final.

Aston’s squad had made the semi-final in 2010 – losing to eventual winners Halifax – but the squad had seen big changes, notably the loss of Australian playmaker Brendon Lindsay. The predictions were for a season of transition with a mid-table finish but a likely early exit in the play-offs. That’s just what Aston likes.

“We’ve been underdogs all the way” said Aston. “The guys have been magnificent in the last few weeks, there’s a belief that comes from hard work.”

The season didn’t start well with indifferent results in the Northern Rail Cup group stages but when the league kicked-off and with new signing Samoan international Quentin Laulu-Togagae starting to settle in results came. An opening round defeat by Widnes Vikings was followed by five wins and a strong performance at St Helens in the Challenge Cup.

It was more up and down after that with team changes forced by the loss of loan players and less than impressive performances against top six teams. Three wins out of the last six league games were enough to earn a fourth place finish and the vital advantage of home draws in early play-off rounds.

Playing at the Lane was put to good advantage with a 36-20 win over Widnes. It was followed by a crushing of Halifax. Playing at Leigh Centurions in the elimination semi-final was the big test. The team responded with a great defensive display that set the foundation for a 20-10 win. On Sunday the venue isn’t Wembley but the Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington. The message is the same; once again Eagles are defying the odds...