SHEFFIELD Eagles will attempt to overturn massive odds for a second season when they travel to Leigh Centurions for the Championship play-off semi-final, tonight.
They face a Leigh team that finished second in the league – in spite of being docked three points for a salary cap breach – losing only one game. The Lancashire side also won the Northern Rail Cup and beat the Eagles three times in all competitions scoring 146 points to 36.
The positive is that the Eagles went to Leigh in the first round of the play-offs last season and came away with a dramatic 26-24 win – after losing Misi Taulapapa in the first few minutes with a broken ankle.
The Eagles made the semi-final before losing to eventual winners Halifax. They avenged that loss with a 50-12 win at the weekend and now plan to go all the way to their first Grand Final.
“We are capable of making the final,” said coach Mark Aston. “The last three games we have been pretty good, we have momentum, we’re playing smart rugby, how the game should be played – a high completion rate, good field position and defensively we’re putting bodies on the line. We need to make sure we do that at Leigh. Last year we got knocked out in the semi-final and that’s not nice, we don’t want that again.”
The pressure will be on Leigh at the Sports Village tonight in a game live on Sky Sports (kick-off 7.30pm). It’s their second chance to make the final after losing to Featherstone Rovers 35-20 in the first qualifying semi last week.
Eagles will have the power of Menzie Yere back in the centres after his two-match ban. For the rest of the Eagles squad it’s a second game in four days – Leigh have had a week to prepare.
Prop Mitch Stringer, who ‘popped’ a shoulder early in the second half against Halifax, will play. Aston said: “Mitch is bust up but we have one more hurdle to get to a final but everybody wants to be in the team. There is no way Mitch will not be on the field at Leigh.”
Aston needs the pack to hold an expected early charge by Leigh who have two players – forward Chris Hill and half-back Jamie Elli - in contention for Championship player of the year awards. Eagles don’t have a single nomination.
Aston said: “There are two top teams in the competition and we’re playing one tonight. And if we win that we’ll have to play the other (Featherstone) in the final. That’s what we want.”