The long road back for Sheffield Eagles after nine-year exile
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After multiple delays already, the shine has been taken off the club’s homecoming at the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park Community Stadium tonight after the capacity was limited to 800 for safety reasons.
The club hoped as many as 1,200 fans would welcome them back, but some supporters could be kept out until June at the earliest.
"We will do what we can to get what we need to make it a huge success because it’s only been nine years,” said Sheffield’s director of rugby Mark Aston
"I’m not ready to jump under the bus yet.”
As a veteran of more than 35 years service for Sheffield Eagles in playing and coaching roles, Aston has seen it all – and has weathered more body blows than anyone else.
For so long, the club has been the city’s poor relation.
Even in its finest hour, following the famous Challenge Cup win over Wigan in 1998, Sheffield Council reportedly had to be talked into hosting a celebration dinner for the team.
Over the years, plenty of people connected with Sheffield Eagles have been left exasperated and frankly fed up, but finally they now have a place to call home again at least.
“It’s a dream,” said Aston, who starred in the 1998 final.
"You keep believing you will be back one day. In the nine years we have been out of the city there’s been some real dark days, some real tough days where you think ‘What are we doing, how are we going to survive, can we get through this?’.”
He added: “If there’s anyone in professional sport that’s gone through the journey we have been through, let me know.
"The facility is going to be fantastic. It’s going to develop and get better but it’s a fantastic facility now and one we can just about call home.”
Fantastic, maybe, but not yet finished. It is understood the RFL contemplated postponing tonight’s clash owing to the stadium’s teething problems.
But, Widnes Vikings, who are two places below Sheffield on points difference, will be the first visitors before York, Bradford and Leigh come to town in June.
"We have got some big games coming up over the next period and it starts tonight,” said Aston.
"This competition is tough but what I do know is I have got a group of people who are determined and have a work ethic. We just need to focus week by week.”
He added: “Do we fear anybody? No. Why would we when we just pushed if not the best team, one of the best teams in this division, right to the end?
"They (Leigh) know they could have lost that game, I’m not sure any other teams could say that against them at the Leigh Sports Village.
"The messages people were saying – and their staff – was that we were the best team they have seen this year. It gives us a lot of confidence.”
The Eagles will also boast home advantage for the first time in a long time.