RUGBY LEAGUE: Eagles out to stifle Halifax playmakers in bid for final

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SHEFFIELD Eagles will get ‘up close and personal’ against Halifax as they bid to book a place in their first Northern Rail Cup final tonight.

Mark Aston’s team will target Fax’s playmaking trio of half-backs Paul Handforth and Anthony Thackeray plus hooker Sean Penkywicz.

“Halifax have people who can play across the board, they’ve got strength, speed and quality half-backs who have a good kicking game but like any team if they are put under pressure and you rattle them they’ll come up with negatives and that’s what we have to do,” said the Eagles’ coach.

“Our lads have got to get in close and personal – we’ll focus on that. We’ll look at how we can break Halifax down, how we can intimidate them.”

Aston is set to follow the pressure tactics used by Dewsbury Rams and Featherstone Rovers which left Fax looking jaded in their last two league games.

It worked well as Rovers knocked Halifax off top place in the Championship with a 24-4 win at the Shay.

But Karl Harrison’s team come to Don Valley Stadium for the Rail Cup semi-final tonight (kick-off 7.30pm) knowing they hammered Eagles 50-18 earlier in the season.

“It’s all about this game and that’s in the past,” said Aston. “This is Cup rugby, nothing from the past counts it’s all about 80 minutes of rugby.

“Featherstone and Dewsbury have nullified their strengths – Halifax won at Dewsbury but Fev shut them out by strong defence.”

Aston looks set to turn to his more experienced players after experiments in the last two games. That may see a recall to the starting 13 for half-back Simon Brown and second rower Alex Szostak.

Forward Sam Scott could be the one to miss out from the 17 that face Swinton with Pat Smith dropping to the bench where his ability to play at hooker can be used.