Sheffield Eagles director of rugby Mark Aston believes that the next five games will determine whether his side have what it takes to challenge for the top four.
Saturday’s defeat in Toulouse put a dent on hopes that the Eagles could gatecrash the elite positions in the Kingstone Press Championship, but Aston is looking to play the long game as attempts to orchestrate what would be a stunning turnaround for his side.
There is no question the Eagles have vastly improved from the side that was hovering in the lower reaches of the division during the early rounds of the season. But despite competing well against high-flyers Featherstone and Toulouse, Aston’s side were beaten in both.
The experienced coach knows it will be a tall order, but over the next four weeks he still believes his side has the capability of narrowing the eight point gap.
“If you have a look at the fixtures, a lot of the other sides who are up there are playing against each other,” Aston told The Star.
“Featherstone have got to play London, London have also got Hull KR coming up - they are all playing one another over the next few weeks which is good for us.
“If we can get that momentum with Swinton, Rochdale, Halifax and Batley coming up, then at the end of that period I think that we’ll know whether we have a realistic chance of hitting the top four.
“We have to take it week-by-week but at the back of my mind, the next four games will potentially determine our season.
“That’s whether we will be good enough to play in the top echelons with this group or not.”
Saturday’s defeat was a setback for Aston’s improving outfit, as Toulouse maintained their 100 per cent home record in the league.
Aston will have been buoyed by seeing new signing Paddy Flynn make his debut at centre, whilst winger Garry Lo bagged a brace of tries to maintain his impressive scoring ratio.
There were highlights for Aston, but against the division’s elite he admits high standards must be achieved more consistently.
“I believe we can compete amongst the top four,” he added. “I have certainly seen signs of that but we need that consistent level.”
Have we been consistent? We have been getting there, we are still not where I want to be, there is still a little bit more left in us.”