Skip to main content

2004 - Play Offs Again

The Eagles reach the Play Offs again but there was no trip to the Grand Final

As the rebuilding of the Club continued it was another season of so near, yet so far. The Eagles were getting stronger both off and on the field though, looking to a brighter future.


As Sheffield started to recruit for the forthcoming season the immediate priority was to retain as many of the existing squad as possible. A number of Super League and Divison One clubs were looking at the young squad and approaches were made. Mitch Stringer signed for London Broncos, for which the Eagles received a small fee. Andy Raleigh had been approached by Leeds Rhinos. Fortunately for the club, he decided to remain a Sheffield player.

Others that left the Eagles to pastures new were Ryan Angus (Hunslet), Lee Bettinson (Sharlston Rovers), Darren Robinson (Dewsbury) and Tom O’Reilly (Pia). Both Dale Laughton and Mark Aston had announced their retirements, as had Ian Thompson and Damian Whitter, whilst Tony Weller had continued his globetroting moving to Canada. Long serving Neil Kite and Paul Wells, along with Pat Rich, Richard Singleton and Sam Bibb left the club.

With those leaving, the club had lost a lot of experience and try scoring ability. But they had managed to retain 19 of the 2003 squad who represented the strong nucleus of last season’s young Minor Premiers team.

New recruits were brought into the squad as the season developed.Some of these signed on at the start of the season, whilst the majority joined the club as the season progressed, a couple of them on loan from other clubs in higher divisions.

  • Kieron Collins (Loughborough)
  • Ryan Dickinson (Dudley Hill)
  • Aled James (Widnes)
  • Jimmy Pearson (Sheffield RU)
  • Scott Collins (Australia)
  • Sean Dickinson (Dudley Hill)
  • Danny Mills (Batley)
  • Andy Rice (Featherstone)
  • Richard Stone (Batley Loan)
  • Alex Dickinson (Dudley Hill)
  • Steve Docherty (Australia)
  • Rob North (Rotherham)
  • Bright Sodje (Hillsborough Hawks)

The club were also linked with the resigning of former forward Danny McAllister but that unfortunately fell through. There was also a strong hope that Tom O’Reilly would return after the French League season had been completed. On leaving at the end of the previous season he had expressed a desire to return as he had enjoyed his time with club. Disappointingly, the Eagles did not run an Academy side in 2004 which had proved a vehicle for providing game time for younger members of the first team squad, as well as acting as route into the first team, players like Simon Morton, Mitch Stringer and Carl De Chenu.

Off the Field

A major off the field development was the securing of £34,000 Sports match grant to fund the Eagles In the Community Schools Coaching Programme. Funding two full time development officers (who were Gavin Brown and Richard Goddard in 2003/04) the programme had already been running for three years since the rebirth of the Eagles, with 3,000 pupils from 60 primary and 15 secondary schools in the South Yorkshire and East Midlands area taking part, many having gone on to play junior rugby league in increasing numbers. The Eagles already ran an Annual Tag Festival at Don Valley, the last one had involved 650 young people. They also had had success with many local schools being involved in the Powergen Champions School Cup.

Sheffield Eagles believe that junior development is the future of our club and it gives us great pleasure to se the scheme receive such a boost
David Butler, Community Manager

Ground Problems....Again

Problems had also raised their head over the availability of Don Valley for both mid-week training sessions and match days. The Eagles had been anchor tenants since their first move to Don Valley in the early nineties. Supporters had raised their disquiet with local councillors and the club the Eagles were being forced to schedule too many Friday games, due to venue clashes with other sports.A petition was organised. which went to the City Council. Calling on them to ensure that the agents who managed the facilities on the Council’s behalf would give the club more leeway to schedule more Sunday games, than the 4 out of 13 which was the current position. An accommodation was reached between the City Council, their agents and the Eagles which helped ease the situation for 2004.


The first pre-season game for the Eagles was the Jon Bauer Memorial Match against the Hillsborough Hawks on December 28th 2003. Jon had been a lifelong suoporter of the Eagles, involved with Gary Hetherington when he was first establishing the Club in the 1980s, who had suddenly passed away earlier that year. He also had had links to the local amateur game and had been the Eagles Matchday organiser.

We wanted to do something special to remember Jon who gave a great deal to the club over the years. The Board feel this is the most appropriate way to mark the great contribution Jon made to rugby league in the city.
John Whaling Board Member 2003
The Eagles were very important to Jon and it is a unique way of the club remembering. He would have loved the idea of a game like this.
Janet Bauer 2003

Both Mark Aston and Dale Laughton came out of retirement for this special game.In the initial stages of the game, the Eagles looked very rusty in their performance and soon fell behind to two converted tries from Bright Sodje, who was later to sign for the Sheffield club. By half time they had pulled back two tries, but still trailed 8-12. The second half clearly showed their superiority, scoring 26 unanswered points, ensuring that the game was a fitting memorial to Jon.

Sheffield Eagles v Hillsborough Hawks 28/12/2003

The long awaited testimonial game for Mark Aston took place on 18th January 2004, between his All Star Team and the current Eagles squad. In front of over 1,000 Eagles fans, Eagles players both past and present treat them to a feast of 13 tries. It was a trip down memory lane for many of the long standing supporters.The final score was a victory for the current squad, 46 points to 24. Mark Aston could at last hang up his boots, or so he thought.

I’ve got to thank the fans – its been nearly 20 years and they have been great with me. There have been some hard times, there have been some great times, we have done a full circle from when Gary Hetherington set up the club. I’ve some great characters who have played for the All Stars. We had the good times like winning at Wembley then the downs like the ‘merger’ but that’s gone. We are looking forward now.
Mark Aston January 2004
In recent years Mark has been the guiding light behind the club still being in existence. This is enough for the people to turn out today and show their appreciation.
Daryl Powell January 2004
The club has always had character and the whole history of the club has been one of overcoming hurdles. That needed a tremendous amount of fortitude and stickability and those are certain features that belong to Mark - features that have stood him in god stead over the years. It’s those, along with his ability that made him a fine player and coach of the club.
Gary Hetherington January 2004

Finding the right replacements for those who had left was proving difficult, so by the time the new season opened in February, the Eagles had a squad of just twenty players, the smallest in the National Leagues, but looked to recruit more early in the season, as the Cup competitions progressed.As with 2003, the club’s aim was to secure automatic promotion to Division One and improve on their previous performances in the Arriva Trains Cup (ATC).

Cup Competitions

In the group stage of the Arriva Trains National Cup, the Eagles had been drawn against Doncaster, Hull KR, London Skolars and Dewsbury. The first games started in early February, with Sheffield travelling to Hull KR.

In a muddy encounter which prevented free flowing rugby, the experience and professionalism of the home side enabled them to secure victory, 24-2, against an Eagles side that battled for the full 80 minutes and didn’t look like getting trampled into the mud. Injuries to key players, Andy Raleigh, and Peter Reilly, during the game, meant that the Sheffield side had only 17 fit players for the visit to Hilton Park, to play amateur side Leigh Miners Rangers in the third round of the Challenge Cup.

The game was another one affected by the elements. Playing in a torrential downpour, the Eagles defence had to withstand the persistent attacks of the amateurs who missed a series of chances to pull off an upset. Simon Morton scored his first try for Sheffield, but the home side pulled ahead on the hour.In the latter period of the second half Gavin Brown scored a converted try and a penalty, to secure a place in the next round, enabling the Eagles victory, 14-12.

The first of three successive ATC home games for the Eagles was against their old South Yorkshire rivals. Doncaster Dragons, who had struggled in Division One in 2003, staving off relegation by beating Batley in a play-off, with Batley then having to retain their premier status by defeating the Eagles. Doncaster dominated the game and after a devastating eleven minutes early in the first half, when the Eagles conceded three tries, the visitors were ahead by 22 clear points, Sheffield’s defence improved in the second half, but it failed to stop them losing 6—38 and the South Yorkshire Cup.

Next at home were relegated Dewsbury Rams. Due to the mounting injury list, Mark Aston was forced out of retirement to play in the game. Again a poor defensive display from the Eagles resulted in them conceding seven tries, whilst only managing to score three. Despite Aston’s efforts, Sheffield lost 18-42 and the injury list got worse with Gavin Brown breaking his hand.

London Skolars were the next visitors.With Mark Aston again in the side, the Eagles dealt easily with the visitors, scoring eight tries to London’s one. Carl de Chenu scored his first points in a first team shirt, the winger scoring a hatrick as the Eagles secured their first win of the competition 34-6.

Sheffield Eagles v London Skolars 22/02/2004

The final game of February was a home game with York City Knights in the fourth round of the Challenge Cup. A penalty strewn first half saw the Knights ahead at the interval 24-12.But in the second half Eagles pressure saw the home side draw within two points and looking to have the momentum to take the game. But three sin-binnings, for technical offences, within 12 minutes decided the game, giving the Eagles too big a mountain to climb. York were eventual winners, 32-24 and progressed to the next round.

Early March saw the arrival of fresh blood to the club, some old, some new. Bright Sodje, a former Sheffield Eagles Super League player returned, whilst the Dickinson brothers, Sean, Ryan and Alex signed from amateurs Dudley Hill. The club also secured the services of loanee Richard Stone from Leeds Rhinos for two games. On the field the Eagles also faced an away trip to Doncaster Dragons.

Looking for a better performance than had been delivered in the previous encounter, Mark Aston was disappointed to see his team losing by 22 unanswered points 50 minutes into the game. After the Eagles scored their solitary try, Doncaster continued to pile on the points, claiming a 34-4 victory.

The situation went from bad to worse in Sheffield’s next game in London.The London Skolars secured their first ever win of the competition, managing to overcome the wet and windy conditions that had turned the pitch into a quagmire. The 14-16 defeat ended any slim hopes of the Eagles progressing in the competition and also saw MarkAston finally call an end to his playing career, to focus on coaching his team to future successes.

I was subjected to the worst performance since the re-establishment of the club. Admittedly the pitch didn’t help… the horizontal rain must have made handling difficult, the ridiculously narrow pitch made wingers superfluous but the display was abject. An awful lot of people put an awful lot of voluntary effort into maintaining this club and striving to take it forward and they were all badly let down last weekend. I hope that the players realise that.
Ian Swire, Chair March 2004

Sheffield had two games remaining in this year’s ATC competition. The first was the return fixture against Hull KR at home. A significantly improved performance saw the Eagles develop a 16-12 lead at the break, thanks to a Gavin Brown 70 metre try. Hull levelled the scores in the 71st minute, but a Richard Goddard penalty nosed the home side again. It wasn’t until the 79th minute that Hull secured the game with a converted try. following a refereeing error that had given Hull head and feed in a scrum on the Eagles 10 metre line. Unbeaten Hull had managed to scrape victory 22-18.

The improved performance stood the Sheffield side in good stead as they travelled the short distance up the M1 to Dewsbury Rams. Producing an aggressive and controlled display, the Eagles led the home side 22-0 on 30 minutes. They then let the game slide allowing Dewsbury to dominate the second half.But it was a Jack Howieson converted try in that half that ensured the Eagles took the points, 28-22. Sheffield finished third in their group and again failed to qualify for the latter stages of the competition.

These games had seen injured players slowly return to the squad, whilst others, like Bright Sodje, being sidelined with new injuries. To ease the continuing problem Sheffield signed Welsh International Aled James for the rest of the season and former Academy player, Andy Rice, on loan from Batley.

Concern had been growing at the low crowds attending the home games of the Cup competitions. The average had been 879 over the five games compared to 922 the previous year a drop of around 5%. The Club arranged an urgent and successful supporters meeting to clear the air about the Club’s performance in the early stages of the season and look at ways to improve attendance. Radio Hallam had also become one of the club’s main sponsors and were helping to increase the profile of the Eagles to the Sheffield public.

National League 2

The club’s pre-season training and recruitment focus had been to ensure that they would build upon last year’s near miss performance and secure automatic promotion this time round.

Following the experiences of the 2003 season the Rugby Footbal League had introduced some minor but significant changes for the new season. Specifically the team that came top in 2004 would secure automatic promotion to Division One, to replace the team in 10th place in that Division, who would be automatically relegated. The team that finished 9th in Division One would be involved in the play offs with the other top five teams in Division Two. Many Eagles supporters queried why this change couldn’t have been introduced the previous season on the formation of the new structure. Dewsbury had also joined the division following their relegation and replacement by Keighley Cougars.


The new season started in mid-April during the Easter holiday period. As in 2003 the Eagles starting fixture was a Good Friday trip to London, the first of four consecutive trips on the road, looking for revenge for their shock defeat in the ATC competition. The game against the London Skolars was not to be as easy as it had in the previous season

A hard fought game saw the home side ahead, 18-12 at the interval. In the second half, the Eagles gradually took control of the match, with a 12 point unanswered haul, taking the match 24-18, Andy Poynter scoring twice over the London line. Not a spectacular performance, but Sheffield’s first win of the season. The next trip was to Chorley Lynx, who had done the double over the Eagles in 2003. As with previous game the home side were in the ascendancy for the first 47 minutes of the game, but still found themselves 0-4 behind at the interval, courtesy of a Simon Tillyer try. Straight after the resumption, Chorley scored three quick converted tries to lead 18-4, to be then hit by an Eagles blitz, scoring 28 points in as many minutes. Scott Collins secured his first points for the club with two tries, and Greg Hurst contributing a further two. Richard Goddard however had an off day with his kicking duties, succeeding with only 2 out of his 7 attempts.The Eagles were victors, 32-18

During April more potential additions to the squad were sought. The Eagles had also been linked with a potential move to secure the services of Wasaile Sovatabua, one of their Challenge Cup heroes who had been playing Rugby Union, but his current club were not prepared to let him move to the Eagles during their off-season. Better news was the possibility that Tom O’Reilly would return to the club in July when the French league season had ended.


May started with a trip to York City Knights, who were the bookies favourite for promotion. In a lively encounter, the Eagles found themselves behind at the half- time hooter, 4-14, due to a controversial try given by the referee, but not the touch judge who deemed the York player had been in touch. Andy Poynter, Andy Raleigh, Craig Brown and Greg Hurst produced significant efforts, but after their early score the Eagles were chasing the game. Jon Breakingbury scored immediately after the second half started, bringing the visitors within 4 points, but York continued to pile on the points with a further three tries, to Andy Raleigh’s sole effort. At the final whistle the Knights were victorious, 34-16.

The next trip was to Gateshead Thunder. whom the Eagles had a good record against in recent seasons. Gateshead had not won a game in the last year and the Eagles were well ahead by the end of the first half, with an unassailable lead 26-0. Both Andy Poynter and debutant Alex Dickinson contributed two tries a piece, the latter scoring his brace within three minutes. Whilst the Eagles weren’t as dominant in the second period, they still managed a further three tries, with Nick Turnbull contributing two of those, to Gateshead’s solitary one. A 42-6 win put the team into a strong position for the first home game of the season.

We played well in patches and got the job done. We’ve now won three from four and I’m getting closer to deciding what is my strongest team.
Mark Aston, Sheffield Star

Dewsbury Rams were the first visitors. Relegated at the end of last season from Division One, a solid start to their season saw them in 6th position in the league. However, if it hadn’t been for their gritty defence, poaching their only two tries at the end of the game, they could well have been overwhelmed by the Sheffield offence. In front of a crowd of 1,352 the Eagles celebrated their homecoming after nine weeks on the road. Having 90% of the possession, several chances squandered, the Eagles accumulated 24 unanswered points before the late Dewsbury revival. The home side were victorious 24-12 and their supporters could celebrate. The game was Ryan Dickinson’s first. At 17 years of age he was the youngest player to wear an Eagles shirt.

Sheffield Eagles v Dewsbury Rams 28/03/2004

The Eagles were then back on the road for their first of two back-to-back games with Workington Town. With the absence of key members of the squad, the match saw debuts for Aled James and new signings Steve Docherty and Jimmy Pearson. Workington dominated the first twenty minutes of the game securing an 8-0 lead, and then the pendulum swung in Sheffield’s favour for the next 40 minutes.In that period the Eagles scored 36 points to the home side’s 6. Then the pendulum swung back again, as Town tried to claw back the difference. With five minutes to go they were within four points of the visitors, and for those five nail biting minutes the Eagles hung on, to take the game 26-32. In securing the victory the Eagles created five tries, two from Bright Sodje and a debut try from Steve Docherty, whilst debutant Aled James dominated the game with his positional kicking and goal kicking landing a perfect 8 out of 8 and landing the Sheffield side in 3rd position in the league. Although they had secured the same number of points as the top two the Eagles inferior points difference kept them from the automatic promotion spot.


June started with the return visit of Workington Town to Don Valley. It was an arm wrestle for three quarters of the game, with the penalty count 14 to 4 in favour of the home side. By the interval both sides had exchanged tries and penalties to be level at 8 points each. Penalties and knock-ons were the order of the second half, but Sheffield gradually started to take control. On 56 minutes Andy Poynter scored a converted try in the corner, followed by a Richard Goddard field goal. As Workington were visibly tiring, due to the number of tackles they had to make, on 70 minutes Scott Collins scored the final try of the game. The Eagles had completed the double over the Cumbrians by 21-8. As all the top teams were involved in ATC games, the Eagles moved to the top of the league.

The next game was at Hunslet Hawks, who were fourth in the league. With the home side trying to disrupt play by using intimidatory tactics, a mass brawl broke out after 8 minutes had elapsed. This incident spurred Sheffield into action, after they had fallen behind to an early Hunslet penalty.With Gavin Brown dictating play, the Eagles scored four converted tries before the interval, with Andy Raleigh adding a further two after the break to put the visitors in an unassailable position, 38-2 ahead. In the last quarter Hunslet tried to make the result more respectable, pulling the Sheffield lead back to 24 points. Aled James ended the scoring with an Eagles penalty, resulting in a 40-18 final score line. But in the dying moments of the game a second mass brawl, erupted with Jack Howieson being red carded for punching Hunslet’s Ibbetson, for which he subsequently was awarded a four-match ban from the RFL Disciplinary Committee.With this win, Sheffield maintained their position as league leaders.

But the next game was to change that, as second placed Barrow Border Raiders visited Sheffield. In a tightly fought affair, both sides exchanged two tries and traded penalties. It was not until Richard Goddard was stretchered off injured that Barrow got the upper hand. They managed to grind out a 24-16 victory after the Eagles had been ahead 10-8 at half time. Barrow leap frogged the Eagles in the league table, Sheffield falling to third. Later it was revealed that the injury would put this influential playmaker out of contention for the rest of the season.

Averaging 1,102 per game, these first three home matches of the league season, had seen crowds 25% higher than the earlier ATC cup games held at Don Valley. This growth could be attributed to a variety of factors, particularly the team’s performance, but also the initiatives that had been introduced to grow home crowds, such as Bring a Friend and the improving pre-match experience.

I’m not sure if it’s my imagination but I do feel that the atmosphere at Don Valley during our last few home games has been tremendous. I know results play a big part, but our supporters seem to be getting louder and more boisterous with each and every game. We seem to be more enthused, and this only bodes well for the Eagles as such support permeates to the players.
Chris Noble, OBE Director

With sufficient cover for wing positions, Sheffield loaned out Danny Mills to Super League team Salford to enable him to have a go at playing at that level.


July saw further consecutive home defeats. The visit of Swinton Lions witnessed the Eagles title bid take a severe knock against an ordinary but determined opposition who they allowed to take control. The home side failed to take their chances, letting the errors mount up. By the break they were 2-14 adrift and their second half performance didn’t get any better. Individuals put in desperate bids to turn the tide which created two tries, but that was not enough. The Swinton half backs dictated the game throughout, securing them a rare away victory 32 points to 16, which marked the start of a run that secured them a playoff position at the end of the season. Although the Sheffield side had had to make changes due to their growing injuries, Mark Aston was not impressed with his players suggesting that they had got out of the game what they put into it, which was nothing.

Chorley Lynx’s visit brought the next defeat. Again, the visitors’ half backs dictated play, but were additionally helped by a string of penalties given by the referee who compounded the situation by then awarding a couple of very dubious tries, whilst disallowing similar ones for the home side. Yet, despite being outplayed, the Eagles were ahead at the interval 12 points to 4 due to tries from Carl De Chenu and Greg Hurst. The second period saw Chorley develop a healthy lead with three unanswered tries. This spurred the home side to a reaction, with tries from Jordan James and Nick Turnbull. The scores were levelled the scores at 24 all. Unfortunately, the Eagles lacked the killer edge and were unable to prevent a late drop goal and a final converted try which gave Chorley the match and the points, 31-24. Sheffield dropped to fourth in the league, four points adrift of league leaders Barrow.

I’m disappointed for the supporters at the moment because we are not playing well. We are playing like a team with no confidence and belief and a bit of a soft attitude. I also think the refereeing performances need to be assessed. People in control are kidding themselves if they think referees are coming up with good performances. Referees can’t determine who wins and losses, but that is what is happening at times and that shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
Mark Aston

Fellow contenders, York City Knights, were the next visitors to Don Valley. They had also fallen into a poor run of form. This was a must win for both sides, if they were to retain any chance of securing the automatic promotion spot. After three minutes York were ahead with an unconverted try. That was pulled back with a reply from Alex Dickinson. A couple of penalties and tries from Andy Rice and Gavin Brown saw the Eagles in front at the interval 18-4. Two quick tries by York, early in the second half. brought them within four points.However, a converted try from Andy Poynter on his return from injury, coupled with a field goal and late penalty saw the Eagles gratefully take the points, 27-14. With results elsewhere going in their favour, Sheffield moved into second place in the league, yet still four points behind the leaders Barrow, who also had one match in hand over the Eagles, but a points scored for disadvantage of 64 points.

Off the field July witnessed the enforced retirement of prop Guy Adams who had battled with injury since the previous season.More positive news was the securing of a further £45,000 grant from Sports England to assist in the continued development of the highly successful Eagles Schools Development Activity, whilst the Fourth Annual Tag Festival at Don Valley enabled over 400 pupils to take part in rugby league activities.


With six games to go at the start of August, the Eagles had to maintain their winning ways by being victorious in all of them, but also outscoring their rivals for the automatic promotion place. It was an achievable task but would be heavily dependent on other clubs beating their rivals.

Tom O’Reilly had been expected to start playing for the Eagles in either July or August, but in his last game for Pia he had been injured and needed to have an operation his knee.He was now recovering well. It was still hoped that he would be available to play in the closing stages of the season.

The first of those games was at home against Gateshead Thunder, who were still looking for their first win of the season. The game was dominated by the Sheffield side, ably directed across the park by Gavin Brown, who was involved in the majority of the home side's try scoring moves, linking well with his fellow half back Aled James.Ahead at the break by 34-4, the Eagles piled on more points in the second half, winning the match 54-10. Amongst the six try scorers, Carl De Chenu scored a hat-trick, with both Jordan James and Craig Brown scoring two each. Elsewhere Barrow had lost at York, the gap now narrowing between first and second to two points, the points scored for difference to only 6.

The Eagles next appearance was at Dewsbury Rams. Jack Howieson returned from his four-match suspension to play. Sheffield again dominated the game, racing to a 26-6 lead at the interval. Dewsbury scored a try on the restart, but that was the end of any revival, as Richard Chapman was dismissed for alleged punching. The visitors continued to score at will against the 12 men, eventually claiming the two vital points, 51-10.A Barrow home defeat to Swinton enabled the Eagles to return to the top spot again on points scored, 45 more than the Border Raiders. But Barrow had still to play the game they had in hand.

Sheffield had a week off. In that week victories for both Barrow and York resulted in the Eagles dropping down to third place. They were now two points behind Barrow, but with a positive points for difference of 29.

Winning ways continued with fellow challenger Hunslet Hawks visiting Don Valley, with virtually a fully fit Eagles squad to choose from. In yet another one-sided game against the injury depleted Hawks side, the home side were ahead 20-4 at the interval. The visitors looked like a beaten side that just wanted to get back on the bus before the final hooter. Increasing their lead with a hat-trick of tries from Jordan James they achieved a 50 points to 10 result at the final whistle, with Aled James and Nick Turnbull contributing two tries each to the Sheffield total. Elsewhere Barrow just managed a point from their game against Swinton, whilst other fellow top spot contenders heavily outscored their opponents. Sheffield were now one point behind, with a better points difference than Barrow, but an inferior one to York who remained in second place.

The final game of the month was a long trip to Cumbria to face the league leaders Barrow Border Raiders. Victory would enable the Eagles to leapfrog the home side. But that was not to be, as the home side moved themselves into an unassailable lead on 45 minutes, ahead by 25 points. A fightback from the visitors narrowed that lead but was insufficient to prevent a Barrow victory 29-10, leaving the play-offs as Sheffield’s only route to promotion.The focus was now on securing second spot.


But September brought a further defeat, this time away to fourth placed Swinton Lions who were continuing their positive run, having beaten several top sides in previous weeks. On a very hot day, Sheffield went into an early lead 16-0. With Jimmy Pearson recording his first try in Eagles colours, as the half progressed, Swinton gradually worked themselves back to within two points of the visitors at half-time, 14-16 behind. A Bright Sodje try on the restart and a Gavin Brown penalty, increased the Eagles lead to 10 points. However, with several Eagles players suffering from the effects of dehydration, Swinton moved into the ascendancy. Crossing the Sheffield line four times, Swinton took the two points with a victory 32-24, completing the double over the Eagles.

We lost because we stopped doing the simple things we were doing in the early stages and for some reason the game plan went out of the window, and they all thought they knew better. The forwards were solid, but the back line lost their concentration altogether.
Mark Aston LE 6 July 2004

With that defeat Sheffield could only finish in third place if they defeated London Skolars in their last home game of the season. The Eagles made sure of third spot with a 12 try demolition of the visitors. Ahead 28-0 before 40 minutes were up, the tries kept coming in the second half, the home side securing a 62-6 victory.Jordan James, Steve Docherty, Andy Poynter, and John Breakingbury, all scored two tries each to contribute to the victory, with a Jimmy Pearson adding 12 points from his boot. Unfortunately, the victory came with a cost. Gavin Brown went off the field with a broken hand after only six minutes, ruling him out any involvement in the play-offs.

Further bad news hit the Eagles camp. Tom O’Reilly’s would not be returning to Sheffield that season. There had been complications with his lingering knee injury, that had kept him in France recuperating, preventing him from joining the squad for the play-offs.

NL 2 Play Offs

By finishing 3rd, the Eagles were drawn against sixth place Hunslet Hawks in the elimination quarter final. The home side had beaten the Hawks twice in the season and were favourites to win the tie. But league form is often no determinant when it comes to sudden death knockout games.

Sheffield Eagles v Hunslet Hawks 19/09/2004

With the Sheffield pack failing to dominate the game and their backs inexperience resulting in too many mistakes being made, Hunslet defied the form book, weathering the Eagles attack in the early stages of the first half. They then went on to score three tries, creating a 20-4 lead at the interval. The home side’s only points came from a Scott Collins try. Sheffield fared no better in the second half. Needing to score first and early, they fell further behind to two further tries from the visitors. A Jordan James response was cancelled out by a drop goal and solo effort by Hunslet halfback Tawahi. It was game, set and match to the Hawks when they scored a further try. By the time Aled James crossed the Hunslet line with two minutes to go, the Eagles season had long been over. The result, 39-16 to Hunslet., and progress to the elimination semifinal.

Disappointment is an understatement. We were at home, and we had finished third in the league, and we believed we were good enough to win. To come up with a performance like that is disappointing for me, the coaches, the fans, the club, and the players. And we don’t get a chance to put it right.
Mark Aston Sheffield Star 20 Sep

It was back to the drawing board for the coaching staff to try and plot a way to promotion in the following season. The defeat was the last game for several of the Eagles squad. Stalwarts Jon Bruce, Richard Goddard, Wayne Flynn, Bright Sodje and Peter Reilly had played their last competitive game for the club. Rising stars Jordan James and Andy Raleigh moved on to further their careers, whilst Peter Docherty and Andy Poynter went to Australia to seek new opportunities. Replacements would need to be found, but although it was difficult to predict how these losses of key personnel would impact on the forthcoming season at this early stage, they would be missed.

Attendance at home games continued to be of concern. Despite the initiatives that the club introduced, the numbers attending home games throughout the season saw a further, smaller fall in attendance. Overall, the Eagles attracted 13,529 in 2004, 3% lower than the attendance in the previous season. Average attendance for all cup games was 879 (921 in 2003) and 913 for league games (2001 933). Yet gain there were problems with the availability of Don Valley, which meant that at the start of the League season the Eagles had seven weeks without a home game. To hopefully reverse the decline, the Eagles Board decided for the 2004 Season that all fixtures would be moved to a Friday night 8.00 pm kick off, as it appeared the more popular day during the 2004 season.

Eagles’ fans were left with a major "what if" about the season. If the injuries to key players at key stages in the season had happened, would the team have secured top spot and avoided the vagaries of the playoff system. Additionally, if the changes to promotion had been introduced when the structure was introduced in 2003, would the Eagles have survived in Division One.

Disappointment is the one word that’s smacked me in the chops. The year before we won the league, and we were hoping to do it again. But if you look at it in the cold light of day, there are a number of reasons why we didn’t. Injuries were a big factor. We were missing Richard Goddard and Andy Poynter for massive parts of the season and Jack Howieson was suspended for six weeks. We also didn’t get Tom O’Reilly back because of his injury and I had both Guy Adams and Wayne Flynn retire. All those players would have been in my starting thirteen and not to have them there left big holes. But some of the kids got quite a bit of rugby under their belts that they wouldn’t have done otherwise. The only way you get the experience of handling the pressure at this level is by playing – and they’ve gained that experience. They now have an understanding of what level they need to aspire to, to kick on and demand a first team shirt.
Mark Aston LE 6 Dec 2004

End of Season Awards

Player of the Year: Jordan James

Supporter’s Player of the Year:Jordan James

Players Player of the Year: Andy Raleigh

Coaches Player of the Year: Andy Raleigh

Shooting Star Award: Sean Dickinson

Carl de Chenu (Ireland), Aled James (Wales), Jordan James (Wales) and Jack Howieson (Scotland) represented their countries at the European Nations Cup.

Playing Squad

2004 Playing Squad


2004 results


2004 Table

Player Statistics

2004 Players

Further Information

For more detail about results and players visit the Rugby League Record Keepers Club website HERE.


Ian Swain