Sheffield Eagles: Coach Mark Aston taking inspiration from Featherstone as he continues squad restructure
Watching Featherstone Rovers go within a game of reaching Super League will surely have added to Sheffield Eagles’ confidence they can take the next step into the top five in 2020.
Mark Aston’s side finished just short last season in their quest for a play-off spot.
Featherstone, who finished just inside the elite places and narrowly above the Eagles, showed just how close the competition was in 2019 by getting to the final.
The West Yorkshire outfit ultimately lost the final, to Toronto.
With the Eagles expected to boost their numbers this week, and next, with a host of contract renewals and new signings, Aston will surely be confident his side can be in the play-offs next term.
Seeing Rovers run the rest of the league close underlined that the Eagles aren’t too far away.
And that was a point not lost on their long-serving coach.
He said: “Featherstone did well and had a fantastic end to the campaign.
“But I look at them, and, well, we could have caught them if we had not lost some of those close games during the season.
“I am thinking of the Leigh games, both home and away, which we should have won.
“We could easily have been in there, perhaps in front of them. It was close.
“We got plenty of confidence from that.
“To then see how Featherstone went in the play-offs, and knowing how close we were to them, it shows you that we are not that far away.
“We are also adding quality, so, we will feel a little more confident for next season.”
Aston wants to operate on a squad of around 25 for next season.
The club are expected to confirm more contract extensions over the coming days.
With an experienced forward expected to arrive to ease the burden on skipper Matty James next season, the club have also announced youngster Rory Dixon has agreed a new one-year deal.
Aston is looking to James, and various others, to help some of the club’s promising youngsters.
Lewis Taylor is another name who could see an extended stay shortly, alongside Dixon and homegrown products Blake Broadbent and Paddy Burns.
Dixon, who enjoyed a loan spell at League One Hunslet last season, came back to the OLP for the final quarter of the season.
And he has done enough in his debut campaign for Aston to hand him a new deal.
The former York ace joins a strong nucleus for 2020 which has Aston excited as he looks to take his side to the next level.
He added: “These announcements are being made over the next week or so.
“There is positive news. We already have players here under contract who are committed to Sheffield Eagles, the likes of Aaron Brown, Josh Guzdek, Anthony Thackeray, James Glover and Matty James etc.
“We are now adding to that group, with the names you'll be seeing over the next week.
“We want a 25-man squad.
“If there are others out there who become available, then we may look at that.
“We have had discussions with a number of players, and we'll see some results of those discussions over the next week as well.”