It has taken three decades, but the Eagles now know they will be able to land, in Sheffield, after all.
Head coach and chief executive Mark Aston is a happy man after plans for the club to finally have their own stadium in the city were announced.
The complex has been spoken of since the demolition of Don Valley Stadium, but Eagles supporters and the wider Sheffield public were sceptical given the club’s difficulty to hold down a permanent home during their 30-year history.
However, former Minister for Sport Richard Caborn yesterday confirmed funding for the ‘Olympic Legacy Park’ is in place, and construction will go ahead with the new stadium being the focal point, alongside a school, university technical college and a hotel amongst other developments. The Eagles plan to move into their new home in March 2016.
He said: “It has always been the dream, and it seems that dream has turned into a reality.
Ashton said: “Richard had a vision and said he would deliver it. He has stood by his word. I’m pinching myself because it means Eagles have finally landed in Sheffield. We’ll have a facility that is a rugby league ground first and foremost instead of a football stadium, an athletics arena or a dog track. It will be our home.”
Don Valley Stadium’s closure forced the Eagles back into their original home at Owlerton at the beginning of 2014, a move the club struggled to adapt to; they lost seven out of 12 league fixtures there. A major form factor was the pitch dimensions, which were the smallest possible by the RFL’s minimum standards, stifling the Eagles’ ability to play their expansive brand of rugby.
The Olympic Legacy Park will be at the other end of the spectrum; 100 metres long and 70 metres wide, which represents a full size playing surface. Aston said: “As a professional club, we’re in the entertainment business. We need to entertain, play football and challenge ourselves. What we want is for people to walk away from watching games at this new stadium and say, ‘That was great. I really enjoyed it.’
“Different fields don’t allow you to be able to do that, but this one is a state-of-the-art 4G surface. We use a 3G pitch for training at Sheffield Hallam, so it won’t take us as long to adapt to it as it might have done. It is important it is used by the school as well; it gives us an opportunity to involve kids.”
Eagles have established themselves as a force outside of Super League, winning the last two Championship titles, and Aston believes that with a place to call home, they can reclaim their spot at rugby league’s top table.
“When we relaunched the club 15 years ago, we talked about giving a kid a dream” he added. “I don’t only want kids to dream about playing professional rugby league; I want them to dream about captaining Great Britain and playing at Wembley.
“We have kids who have come through our system in that time who are playing first-team rugby and now they can have a facility to be proud of.”