Sheffield Eagles director of rugby Mark Aston says the return of promotion and relegation to rugby league has brought a real excitement back to the game.
The Eagles are one of eight teams competing in the Super 8s for the chance to play in Super League next season, with their first of seven fixtures starting against Bradford Bulls on August 9 at Odsal Stadium.
The Eagles will be competing against four teams from Super League and three from the Kingstone Press Championship in a mini-league format, with the top three automatically taking their place in the top flight, while the fourth and fifth-placed teams will play in the ‘Million Pound Game’ for the final place in Super League.
Aston admitted there is an excitement around the game that has been missing in recent years.
“Now that there is an opportunity for promotion and relegation between the divisions once again, there is something to really aim for,” Aston told The Star.
“A couple of years ago when we were trying to explain to people that we had won the Grand Final but didn’t get promoted, it was hard for people to comprehend. It is back now. There are opportunities for the teams in the Championship, and don’t be surprised if one of the second-tier sides get into Super League this season.”
The Eagles recently announced they will be a full-time operation from November this year, with the aim of once again becoming a mainstay in Super League. With the foundations being carefully placed for long-term success, Aston believes, even if they don’t make the step this season, the campaign has been a major step forward for the club.
“We are not going full-time for a one-year hit,” Aston explained.
“We are trying to build towards beating Super League teams and challenging ourselves to one day going back to Super League. We are not going to make any rash statements saying when that will be. This year we have made it into the middle eight and if we can finish sixth or seventh then that has to be seen as huge progress. Then next year can we do a little better, and then again the year after. That’s what the aim is, and eventually can we get up there? It is really exciting for everyone involved.”