Rugby League: High-flying Eagles eye up top spot

New Sheffield Eagles skipper Mitch Stringer.
New Sheffield Eagles skipper Mitch Stringer.
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Sheffield Eagles will take over as Championship leaders for the first time this season if they win at Hunslet Hawks tonight.

It’s the second game of three in10 days and will test an Eagles squad’s determination to extend an eight-match winning run.

A win tonight would take them two points clear of Featherstone but the team’s only two defeats this season have come away from home. After Hunslet, they go to Barrow on Sunday.

“The boys were outstanding against Halifax; we can’t drop our standards,” said coach Mark Aston.

“The lads are raising the bar themselves; I’m just pointing them in the right direction.

“All that great effort counts for nothing if we don’t put in another performance like it at Hunslet and back it up on Sunday.

“It would be a good month for us if we come out of these games with three results.”

Aston is set to change a winning team for the trip to South Leeds Stadium, kick-off 7.30 pm.

Winger Misi Taulapapa is likely to be given the chance to rest a niggling ankle injury. Back rower Michael Knowles could be sidelined with a dead leg.

Vinny Finigan or Nev Morrison will replace Taulapapa with Peter Green and Dario Espsito on standby if Knowles is ruled out.

Aston said: “There’s a lot of competition for places; the lads in the team are looking over their shoulder and eager to impress.”

Hunslet are in the bottom four 18 points adrift of third placed Eagles but ran Batley close before going down 24-18 in their last game.

Hawk’s dual registration deal with Leeds Rhinos makes their line-up difficult to predict depending on which players the Super League club release.

Centre Jimmy Keinhorst appeared in the Challenge Cup final but has been given long loan spells at Hunslet this season. Jamel Chisholm gives them speed on the wing and another Leeds youngster Liam Hood is a threat at hooker.

Longer term the Hawks have been boosted by the signing of former Eagles prop Michael Haley following his release by Featherstone and David March gives experience in the back row.

“Hunslet have had a helping hand from the dual reg and you can’t blame them for playing these lads when they’re available,” said Aston.

“They are not a bad team and at home they can be tricky.”

*New captain Mitch Stringer is driving the team forward to meet the challenge of contesting three competitions.

It’s ensuring success in the Challenge Cup and the Northern Rail isn’t affecting their form in the Championship.

Stringer took over when Jack Howieson retired in April and has led the Eagles to five straight wins in cup and league.

“Mitch has taken the lads by the scruff of the neck,” said Aston. “The boys train like champions and want to be the best they can be.”