There’s a conflict of interest for Sheffield Eagles between the desire for Cup glory and the need to harvest league points.
In a rare return to the city, the ‘exiles’ play Super League’s Hull FC at Bramall Lane on Sunday but looming are crucial Championship games against fellow top four teams. That sets coach Mark Aston a poser; does he chase transient fame or rest a few of his key players?
He knows leaving out players for a high-profile Challenge Cup game won’t be popular in the dressing room: “The league is the most important thing but the lads won’t want resting,” said Aston.
“The lads will want to play and big games are about big players. It’s hard not to want to keep that momentum. There will be changes but subtle.”
That hints at a return for winger Rob Worrincy and half-back Dominic Brambani, who was surprisingly left out of the 17 for the defeat by Leigh Centurions.
There’s likely to be a shuffle around in the pack although Jamie Langley will want to face his former club.
Hull FC have blasted back from a poor start with wins at St Helens, on Easter Monday, and at home to Widnes last weekend and won’t risk testing their fans’ patience at the Lane (kick-off 3pm).
The game highlights the task the Eagles would face if they make the ‘Middle Eight’ promotion play-offs, which will feature the top four Championship clubs against the bottom quartet from Super League.
Hopes of a giant killing were high in 2013 quarter-final when Eagles faced a struggling London Broncos but the then Super League club left with a routine 29-10 win.
The harsh reality may be that protecting a place in the top four has priority following a 36-22 defeat by Championship leaders Leigh last Sunday.
The Eagles paid the price for poor decision making – particularly an unnecessary wild pass that threw Leigh a lifeline when they trailed 22-18 with 15 minutes to play.
First half tries from Cory Aston and Quentin Laulu-Togagae and a goal by Pat Walker kept the Eagles in touch at 10-16 down at half-time. With the visitors reduced to 12 by a sin binning they took a four-point lead with a try from Scott Turner and a second for Laulu-Togagae and goals from Kyle Briggs.
Hopes of extending the winning run to nine games went with the match-deciding loose off-load and Leigh gave the score line a false shine with two late tries.
Aston said: “When you are playing in big game you have to take your opportunities and you can’t present team with three or four tries for no work.”