Mark Aston has successfully moulded several teams during his lengthy spell as Sheffield Eagles coach, but he admits his current crop are his most challenging yet.
When the Eagles moved clear of the relegation zone with victory over Rochdale at the end of April, there appeared to be some encouragement after what was a difficult start.
But following back-to-back heavy home defeats to Halifax and London, Aston has admitted that he must go back-to-basics as he looks to arrest their latest slide in the return fixture against the Broncos this Sunday.
Injuries have played a part in the setback. Key figures such as Matty James, Matty Fozard and Simon Brown are all out, but Aston will take some comfort from the return of Menzie Yere who had spent the first three months of the season in exile awaiting approval over a visa.
Aston gave a tough and honest assessment of recent events after Sunday’s defeat, as he continues to seek a winning formula in the midst of an injury crisis which left him down to the bare bones.
Whilst injuries have been a major factor in their most recent struggles, the 50-year-old’s faith in certain areas of his side is being tested, leaving Aston to claim his current group have proven to be his greatest challenge in his long association with the club.
“We’ll try and find a way out of it,” he told The Telegraph.
“Is it the toughest group I’ve ever had? Yes, because we are not a team. A team you can work with. As a group at the moment it is hard. If someone has go at someone else out there, then they all start arguing. They won’t cop the criticism.
“It is back to the drawing board. We will go to London next week but it will be another tough long journey.
“I’ll keep dusting myself down, I’ll keep working hard. We’ll try and find a way out of it.”
On the injury front Aston can expect to have full-back Corey Makelim back after he missed out last weekend through illness, whilst centre Josh Toole looks to have the best chance of being available from the lengthy casualty list.
Fozard (ankle) and James (knee) could be back for the Summer Bash, with the latter looking to overcome a persistent injury which has hampered him in recent weeks.
The skipper, a key performer for the Eagles over a consistent period, hasn’t ruled out a return for the weekend, but the Blackpool fixture against Barrow Raiders looks a more realistic prospect for the ex-Featherstone ace.
“I have torn my knees a little, I have a few nasty burns on there so I just have to wait,” said James.
“I sat out last weekend, we are not sure about this weekend but hopefully within the next fortnight I’ll be back.
“I had my head down, working hard for the team so hopefully when I get back I can stay on top of my fitness and come back in to have the same effect as I did previously. I’ll be working hard behind the scenes and looking to keep on top of things.”