RUGBY LEAGUE: Eagles heroes in firing line

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THE long haul of pre-season training started for Sheffield Eagles players this week with the knowledge that their Championship title has made them a target.

“Teams will be gunning for us - they want to beat the Grand Final winners and preparing to meet that starts now,” coach Mark Aston said.

“It’s a squad with lots of experience and a good attitude. The lads have had a month or so off but now we’re back into it and we’ve got to start getting ready to defend the trophy.”

Five players have been signed to replace those who left or were not offered new deals at the end of last season.

A key signing is stand-off Patch Walker from Dewsbury who replaces Simon Brown. Walker’s style of play is less based around a kicking game but he renews a half-back partnership with Dominic Brambani which was successful at the Rams.

The outside backs look strong with cover across the line and young utility forward Colton Roche will provide a challenge to an experienced pack of forwards.

“A few people have moved on but the ones who come in have a proven record in the Championship,” said Aston.

The squad’s first test is likely to be in the New Year with a friendly at Limoux Grizzlies following the Eagles partnership agreement with the French Elite One club.

The link-up is expected to lead to an exchange of players and coaches.

The Eagles see the French accord as a better option than the partnership deals many Championship clubs are making with Super League clubs.

Eagles squad changes for 2013: In: James Davey (hooker Wakefield), Patch Walker (half-back, Dewsbury), Colton Roche (forward Leeds Rhinos) Tom Armstong (centre, Swinton) and Matt Garside (centre, York).

Out: Simon Brown (half-back), Sam Scott (forward, both York), Alex Rowe (forward, Batley), Ryan Hepworth (forward, Dewsbury), Tim Bergin (winger, released).