Mark Aston was searching for a response and although Sheffield Eagles didn’t get the result, they certainly got the performance.
Following a dismal defeat against rock bottom Workington Town, some will have feared the worst for Aston’s side when Bradford Bulls rolled into South Yorkshire on Friday night.
But the Eagles rediscovered their fighting qualities which earned them their lofty perch for much of last season’s Kingstone Press Championship.
Leading an enthralling contest for long periods, it took tries in the final quarter from Adam Sidlow and Kris Welham to get the Bulls over the line, as their new coach Rohan Smith celebrated his first victory at the helm.
Director of rugby Aston described the week prior to Friday’s showdown as ‘tough, brutal and honest’, but his side responded to his last week’s criticism with a much improved display.
“The fans will have appreciated what the boys did out there because we have had one of those weeks when it has been tough, brutal and honest,” Aston told The Star.
“It has been a hard week. There is no doubt about that, there have been some changes as well. I was looking for a response, and I was looking for the lads to take the first steps to get us back to where we want to be. I thought we did that.”
The Eagles had chances to put the game beyond Bradford in what was a terrific first half performance. Rhys Jacks looked certain to have extended the home side’s lead before seeing his try chalked off, whilst after the interval Garry Lo was denied by a last ditch Danny Williams tackle and Rob Worrincy spilled the ball when 10 metres from the whitewash.
“I thought that the first 40 minutes were outstanding; we didn’t get the bounce of the ball,” Aston explained.
“We had the far touch judge saying that he didn’t think it was a try, despite the referee who was far closer looking like he was giving it. These things happen when you are in a bit of a hole.
“We had a proper dig. In the second half we had an opportunity in the far corner and we dropped the ball. If we score that then I think that we would have gone on and won the game, but at least we are creating those opportunities.”
Aston has seen these flurries of encouragement before during what has been a rocky campaign. He knows that they key to success is backing up the performances, something his side have struggled with all season.
“We will keep working away but now we have got to back it up,” Aston added.
“There were lots of positives and that is just the response that was required. We can see some light at the end of the tunnel again. We have spoke in the changing rooms and they are in a better state of mind, and I am too - hopefully everyone is.
“We looked a little bit more comfortable. We made tweaks with George Tyson in the second row and Worrincy on the right wing, with Ben Blackmore at centre. I thought they did well.”