Eagles and Dons hoping underdogs have their day

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IT’S strange how expectations change. The other day I turned up an Eagles programme from 2002 in which mid-season I wrote optimistically about a possible top half of the table finish. It was a false hope.

The Eagles missed the cut. Following one of the game’s regular juggling acts with the league format they were consigned to a new National League Two for the next season. After the forced marriage to Huddersfield rebuilding a single life was never going to be easy.

Ten years on and it really is as if the past is another country. The Eagles are in the division below the Super League and have not finished out of the top six in the last four seasons. At the weekend they go into their second successive Grand Final against Featherstone Rovers.

Fans at Doncaster must feel the same way after their title winning season. Both sets of supporters must be pinching themselves and wondering if it really is happening.

It may be chip on the shoulder time but when you visit traditional ‘heartland’ clubs there’s always a hint that Sheffield Eagles are upstarts who sneaked into the show.

Maybe on Sunday Eagles’ fans should take to wearing flat caps to prove they’re ‘real’ rugby league supporters? No betting who will be the outsiders at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Sunday. Finishing outside the top two in the league doomed Eagles to three play-off rounds if they were to make the Grand Final.

Batley were swept aside in the opening game at Don Valley Stadium. An impressive win at Halifax followed by one not for the faint hearted in the semi-final at Leigh as the Centurions staged a second half comeback.

The celebrations from that game were clouded by the loss of Joe Hirst for the final with a broken jaw.

How much three play-off games in 12 days has taken out of the team will only become clear on Sunday. A similar run-in left the Eagles still warming up as Featherstone raced into an early lead and went on to win 40-4 last year.

Rovers, after topping the league, have again gone straight to the final by winning the qualification semi. Daryl Powell has had two weeks to prepare his squad for the Grand Final and it won’t have been spent sitting on their backsides drinking tea.

They know the feeling of being an underdogs down the M18 at Doncaster. The Dons have had a great season taking the Championship One league leader’s trophy.

In the play-offs they had a hiccup losing the qualifying semi to Barrow Raiders but they came good last weekend to book their place in the Grand Final.

The Dons game is played before the Eagles-Fev clash. Get there early Eagles fans and stay around Dons supporters. It adds up to a great day out for South Yorkshire rugby league fans who deserve it for their loyalty to both clubs.

The Grand Finals are a unique chance to get behind our teams and make it a great day for the underdogs.