Sheffield Eagles: Coach Mark Aston wants evolution, not revolution as he draws up wishlist

Sheffield Eagles’ close season recruitment will all be about subtle changes to an already developing squad, according to Director of Rugby Mark Aston.

Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 5:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 4:11 pm
Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston. Pic Steve Ellis.
Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston. Pic Steve Ellis.

Aston has reiterated his desire to bring in around six new faces for the 2020 campaign as he attempts to build on a positive 2019.

The past season saw the Eagles finish just outside the top five and cap off the season in style with victory in the 1895 Cup at Wembley.

However, Aston’s plan of bringing in just half-a-dozen reinforcements may need a slight tweak in light of Pat Walker’s retirement.

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Indeed, the Eagles chief admitted earlier this week that he was all but ready to extend the half-back’s stay in the Steel City.

With that in mind, a replacement half-back is also now on the agenda for Aston.

Meanwhile, Ben Blackmore’s decision to depart also leaves a gap out on the wing.

Blackmore has been a mainstay for the Eagles over the past four years.

But Aston confirmed he hasn’t stood still following his departure as he plans to move forward by putting the finishing touches to his ranks for 2020 behind the scenes.

Aston told The Telegraph: “We have had four years, and at times we have enjoyed him, and he has enjoyed us at times.

“To find out he was leaving like I did wasn’t great, but Ben has obviously decided that he needs to play somewhere else and that's fine.

“He's another with a young family so I suspect he has decided to move closer to home.

“That's his call.”

Aston must now contemplate how to best manage his troops on what will again be a tight budget.

With Walker leaving, there is a half-back spot available to fill but the Eagles chief needs to decide whether to go out into the market or look closer to home to fill the void left by the 33-year-old.

Aston added: “Potentially we'll have to now look at filling that spot.

“We have other options within the squad though.

“The key is we have plenty of players here who can operate in different roles.

“There's no massive panic, but obviously we are looking.

“Where do you get half-backs from? They aren't the easiest to pick up.

“That's the big thing for us.

“We are looking for one, it isn't easy, but we are not panicking over the situation because we have players here already who can play that role quite comfortably.”

Meanwhile, winger Ryan Millar has picked up the Eagles Player of the Year award, whilst Aston himself has been nominated for the Betfred Championship Coach of the Year gong.

Aston is one of three nominees alongside James Ford of York and Toronto’s Brian McDermott.

The winners will be announced at the Championship and League 1 awards night at the Hilton Hotel in Manchester on Tuesday, September 24.

The ceremony will be screened live on the RFL's Our League app.

There are no Eagles representatives for the Championship Player and Young Player of the Year awards.

Toronto trio Andy Ackers, Gareth O'Brien and Jon Wilkin are the nominees for the Player of the Year award.

The Young Player of the Year nominees are Swinton’s Matty Ashton, Widnes’ Keanan Brand and Joe Cator from Leigh Centurions.