2006 - Promotion at Last
It was time to say goodbye to Division 2.
After a difficult 2005 season and coming close to promotion in previous seasons it was time for the Sheffield Eagles to achieve promotion out of Division 2. This was the first promotion since the Club reformed in 2000.
After the difficult season on the field that the club had experienced in 2005, it was important that the Mark Aston and his coaching staff created a squad that had the right balance of skills, experience, enterprise, and youthful enthusiasm. But before they could embark on that task, a replacement had to be found to replace assistant-coach Howard Cartwright, following his retirement.
That person was Gary Wilkinson, who became the new Head Coach of the Eagles in a part-time basis. Wilkinson had had a career as a player in the amateur leagues in Hull before moving into coaching where he proved he could develop young players and produce winning teams. After a successful spell as Hull Kingston Rovers' Academy boss he took over the first team in 2002, winning the Northern Rail Cup and reaching the quarter-finals of the promotion play-offs. He moved on to Hull F.C. as under-21s coach and had a brief spell on the backroom staff at Doncaster. In 2004 he was appointed coach of the successful GB Students' squad.Through these contacts he was able to pull in several players to strengthen the 2006 squad.
The Eagles decided to retain only ten players from the previous year’s squad.
- Craig Brown
- Liam Brentley
- Sean Dickinson
- Simon Morton
- Gavin Brown
- Jack Howieson
- Aled James
- John Crawford
- Greg Hurst
- Rob Worrincy
Of that ten, John Crawford left early in the season to return to Australia, whilst Aled James returned home to South Wales as he was unable to secure full-time employment in the South Yorkshire area. He later joined Celtic Crusaders in June 2006.
The club did not re-sign sixteen players. Lynton Stott retired; Damian Lynch returned to Australia; both Alex and Ryan Dickinson returned to the previous amateur club, Dudley Hill; Jimmy Pearson returned to Rugby Union; whilst Danny Mills signed for Doncaster and Carl De Chenu for Celtic Crusaders. Simon Tillyer, Kieron Collins, and Nick Turnbull left the game.
Thirteen new players joined for the season, predominantly from Hull KR or Doncaster.
- Paul Fletcher (Hull KR)
- Paul Pickering (Hull KR)
- Andy Smith (Hull KR)
- Craig Poucher (Hull KR)
- Jo Chambers (Hull KR)
- Andy Hay (Widnes)
- Brendon Lindsay (Ipswich Jets)
- Dean Andrews (Doncaster)
- Martin Ostler (Doncaster)
- Tom Buckenham (Doncaster)
- Jonny Woodcock (Doncaster)
- Jon Presley (Featherstone)
- James Ford Featherstone)
- Alasdair McClarron (Driffield RU)
- Alex Clemie (GB Students)
- Grant Farrow (GB Students)
Jon Presley, James Ford, and Tom Buckenham had all been on loan at the club in the previous season but had so impressed the Eagles coaching staff that they were offered permanent contracts. Former Eagles player, Andy Hay rejoined Sheffield as a Player Coach.
Waisale Sovatabua was retained on the books but had left to play Rugby Union.He was to return when the Union season had finished in May.
A contract had been offered to Eddie Mack from Hull but after he had signed, he asked to be released so he could play nearer to home in Dewsbury before playing a game for the Eagles.
More players joined the club, to cover for injuries, as the season progressed. Jimmy Walker joined in April from Hull KR. May saw the return of Mitch Stringer, initially on loan from Salford, but later signing a permanent contract with the Eagles in July, following a successful supporter supported funding initiative, “Keep Mitch on the Pitch” fund his contract. Also joining that month was amateur Tommy Traylor (Lock Lane) on the recommendation of Howard Cartwright. Caldon Bravo (Doncaster) and Dale Holdstock (Halifax on loan) - the former Hull KR captain joined in July. August saw previous Hull KR player Jon Aston and Damien Reid (Widnes) join to support the final push into the playoffs and beyond. Former Hull KR captain, Andy Smith became the Eagles captain for the season, with Jack Howieson acting as Club captain.
For the approaching season Mark Aston advised:
Before they could test that policy, the club had two important tests on the field in friendly encounters against Hull KR and Doncaster on the final two Sundays in January at Don Valley.
First up were Hull KR. In front of a crowd of 1,164, the Eagles gave the full-time Hull squad a tough ride in the opening pre-season friendly. It was only well into the second half – as the Eagles tired – did the visitors stretch the scoreline. That was due to Sheffield finishing with 11 men who were still battling, as both Jon Presley and Gavin Brown were in the sin bin. Debutant, Brendon Lindsay was impressive at stand-off whilst Andy Hay, coming off the bench, had a key influence in the game, having a hand in two tries.
After 15 minutes, the Eagles were 10 points adrift, but fought back through tries from Greg Hurst and James Ford, putting the home side level, Hull gained the initiative, scoring again but with two minutes to go Lindsay picked up a loose ball and ran in an arc before cutting through the Hull cover for a try. At the interval Sheffield trailed by only two points, 14-16. Hull gained the upper hand in the second half racing to a twelve-point lead, before a Ford converted try on the hour reduced it to six. Further tries from the visitors effectively finished the tie and although Alex Clemie managed to pull one back, a last-minute score by Hull ended the tie 44-24 in Hull KR’s favour. Despite the defeat the Eagles coaching staff were happy with the way the side had played.
The second friendly was against South Yorkshire rivals, Doncaster Lakers. At stake was the South Yorkshire Cup. In front of a crowd of 852 passionate supporters for both sides, Doncaster took an early lead through an interception which was cancelled out by a Craig Poucher response soon after.Poor Eagles defence enabled the visitors to score two tries in succession, before Brendan Lindsay created an opportunity for James Ford to score. The home side were on a roll and ended the half in impressive style with Ford getting his second to enable them to end the half two points behind, 14-16.
After the break, Sheffield let in two soft tries to enable the Lakers to pull ahead by a further ten points. John Crawford responded on the hour to reduce the gap by six points, before Doncaster scored again.At 20-32 the game should have been over, but the Eagles stormed back to level the scores. First John Crawford collected a chip kick from Gavin Brown to score a converted try. Then Grant Farrow intercepted a Doncaster pass to race 85 metres to touchdown under the posts on 70 minutes.32 all. But Doncaster snatched the tie with a late try to ensure that the Lakers retained the South Yorkshire Cup, 36-32. If it had not been for the Eagles having to spend a lot of time in defence because of knock ons and unnecessary penalties, then the result would have been different.
As the kick off for the new season approached the Eagles had two objectives. To go as far as they could in the two cup competitions and to secure automatic promotion from Division Two.
Sheffield had been drawn at the group stage of the Northern Rail Cup tournament with Hull KR, recently promoted York City Knights and relegated Featherstone Rovers. All these clubs had players with significant experience of playing in the higher leagues.
The first fixture involved a trip to Featherstone Rovers in February. The Eagles had to overcome a heavy muddy pitch but produced sparkling passing moves that defied the conditions. Rovers were reduced to 12 men with a player sent off for a high tackle on James Ford but long before then the Eagles had looked to be pulling away. They were exciting going forward and apart from some early lapses defended well. They ran in seven tries, conceding only four, with Greg Hurst securing a brace. Fullback Johnny Woodcock was outstanding both in defence and when moving into the line with telling breaks, whilst Jon Presley scored a try against his former club. Leading 20-14 at half-time, after weathering a period of pressure from the home side tries from Paul Pickering, Sean Dickinson and Brendan Lindsay ensured victory, 38-18.
This was followed by a visit from York City Knights. Having to play two games in five days, Sheffield played a fast-moving game mixing their attacking skills with a determination not to let their lead slip away. But with players carrying injuries and losing Paul Fletcher to a long-term injury early in the game, York staged a comeback late in the game. The Eagles dominated the early part of the game. Tries from Andy Hay and Andy Smith, and a Craig Poucher penalty had them ahead 14-0. York pulled the score back to 14-12, before a 40-metre break by Johnny Woodcock whose resultant pass to James Ford sent him over the York line on the half time hooter. Sheffield’s lead had increased, 20-12.
After the interval, a Gavin Brown drop goal in his 150th game for the club, followed by a Poucher try, increased the lead to seven points. However, two converted tries for York brought them within a point. With five minutes to go, Greg Hurst forced his way in near the corner to ensure a victory for the Eagles, 29-24.
Sheffield’s second home fixture of the competition was against full timers Hull KR. In front of a crowd of 1,347, after battling to stay level with the Rovers for most of the first half, the Eagles were blasted away by two tries in as many minutes just before half-time. Even after Rovers were reduced to 12 men on 68 minutes, the Eagles were never able to recapture the form that had brought two wins in their opening games in group. Rovers took the lead twice, to see it pulled back by the home side, Craig Brown, and Paul Pickering scoring. But two late tries gave the visitors a 24-12 interval lead. The game restarted with a try from Rob Worrincy, who squeezed in at the corner. Despite a further converted try from Jon Presley, it was Hull who finished the stronger, taking the game 44-22.
March started with the reverse fixture against York City Knights. A below par performance saw the Eagles slump to their second defeat in successive games. They were out-thought and out-played for most of the game. Their play lacked direction and bite, with too many mistakes and penalties. York opened the scoring in the sixth minute. Sheffield then first levelled the score, through Dean Andrews, scoring his first try for the club then briefly took the lead. But after that they were always chasing the game. Craig Poucher hit the upright with the conversion – the first of three kicks he was to miss. Poucher than scored the second but then all the momentum was with the home side, to lead at the interval, 22-8 to York. Five minutes into the second-half Martin Ostler forced his way over to narrow the lead. Yet there was to be no fightback as York extended the lead by a further ten points. Following the sin binning of Johnny Woodcock, the Eagles finished strongly, with Ostler scoring his second. Almost on the hooter forward Craig Brown was held up over the try line but the game had long been over as a contest, York the victors 32-16.
The next planned fixture for Sheffield was a Third round Challenge Cup tie at the Eagles bogey team, Swinton Lions. Due to be played on the Sunday, it was postponed due to snow, to the following Tuesday. On a rain swept muddy Sedgley Park a Swinton early lead was pulled back by a Martin Ostler converted try, added to by one from Sean Dickinson on 27 minutes. Late in the half, the Lions pulled the score level 12 each. The home side soared ahead after the break adding a further ten points. Despite being reduced to 12 men with the sin binning of Rob Worrincy, Brendan Lindsay reduced the deficit to 4 points, scoring off his own kick through with 20 minutes to go. It then went all wrong for the visitors, as the Eagles defence let Swinton score four times in those minutes to go out of the Challenge Cup at the first hurdle for another year, 44-18.
The last two fixtures in the group stages of the NRC, were at home to Featherstone and a trip to Hull KR, both bringing further defeats. Don Valley was unavailable for the first tie, so it was transferred to Clifton Lane in Rotherham.The Eagles looked laboured and flat at times throughout their match against Featherstone Rovers. Rovers opened the scoring on seven minutes with a penalty, the third in a row the visitors had been awarded. They then scored a converted try on 16 minutes.Yet within a minute the Eagles had hit back with stand-off Brendon Lindsay racing through to touchdown after the restart kick was fumbled. Sheffield also scored the half’s only other try from Paul Pickering, after a delayed pass created the opening for the hooker to score. But penalties made the difference with Rovers kicking two either side of Pickering’s try to give them a half time lead 12-10. Much of the second half was a battle of attrition as first Featherstone then Sheffield had periods when they dominated the action. Inevitably a penalty broke the deadlock, scored by the visitors.They then sealed the game with a try, with ten minutes to go, bringing them their first victory of the competition, 18-10.
To complete the group stage, the Eagles travelled to Hull KR. Hard hit by injuries and lack of preparation due to the poor weather and unavailability of the Don Valley Stadium the Sheffield side were 22-0 down in as many minutes, before Andy Smith got the visitors on the score sheet. Further first half tries from Rovers saw them 34-6 ahead at the interval. The home crowd expecting a landslide victory after the interval saw a determined Eagles dig in, restricting the home side to three more tries. James Ford scored a consolation try for the visitors, but they still lost the tie, 52-12.
Despite the four defeats, the Eagles qualified for the Quarter Final Knock out stage for the first time. That match took place during the normal league programme in the middle of April away to Division One side, Whitehaven, who were one of the favourites for the cup. The Eagles came close to derailing them with a great second half display. Sheffield were 26-0 down after 30 minutes of this Northern Rail Cup quarter-final and looked to have nothing but a long journey home to look forward to. But after a confidence boosting try, just before half-time, from Jonny Woodcock, who added the extras, the away side were behind 26-6 at the break.
After the interval they outscored the home side, by 24 points to 12 finishing the stronger side. Martin Ostler led the way with a battling 80 minutes, scoring a try. He was backed up by Sean Dickinson, Jon Presley, Rob Worrincy, and a lively debut from half-back signing Joe Chambers. Woodcock got his second, and other try scorers were Alisdair McClarron and Liam Brentley. Woodcock added five conversions, to take his total points contribution to 18 points.Losing by the margin of 30-38, Gary Wilkinson was pleased with the team’s performance:
National League 2
A further restructure of the National Leagues saw Division 2 increase to 12 teams with the addition of relegated Featherstone Rovers and Barrow Raiders with also the inclusion of the newest expansion team, Celtic Crusaders.
The Eagles started their League Two season at home to Keighley Cougars. The match opened in a dour fashion with the first 15 minutes as both teams struggled to control the ball and make an opening. There were handling mistakes and wild passes but neither side was able to benefit from the errors. Then on 17 minutes the Eagles finally got into gear, with Alasdair McClarron racing over the touchline for his first try, followed by his second three minutes later. The Keighley defence was opened up again minutes later. A 40-metre break by fullback Johnny Woodcock from his own half created the opening for centre James Ford to run the last 35 metres to cross the line.Despite a late Keighley response, the home side ended the half in control, 16-6 ahead.
In the second half, played in sweeping icy rain, the Eagles tore a faltering Keighley side to shreds. On 45 minutes Andy Hay scored his first of the match and then his second seven minutes later, after accepting a delayed pass from Brendon Lindsay. Then it was the Lindsay show as he blasted a rapid-fire hat trick of tries in 11 minutes. They had blasted away a young Keighley side, who managed to score a consolation try as the game ended. Victors by 44-12.With Woodcock contributing six goals, Sheffield started the season in second place.
The Easter programme produced two potentially tricky ties, a visit to Featherstone on Good Friday and the visit of new boys Celtic Crusaders on Easter Monday.
Against Featherstone Rovers the Eagles continued from where they left off with their demolition of Keighley. They plundered 10 tries but. on the debit side they conceded 30 points. It was that kind of game that thrills the fans but has the coaches in despair. The win was built on another strong performance by the forwards with Simon Morton, Andy Hay, and skipper Andy Smith outstanding. They won the battle with a strong Rovers' pack providing the possession for stand-off Brendon Lindsay to control play. The growing understanding between Lindsay and Hay produced some dramatic attacking moves.
Fullback Johnny Woodcock kicked eight goals from eleven attempts and scored a crucial try soon after half-time when the Eagles were a man down with James Ford in the sin bin. It was a frantic first half. First Grant Farrow scored Sheffield’s opening try but this was soon cancelled out by Featherstone. Then the Eagles opened a 16-6 lead with tries from Lindsay and Greg Hurst. Poor defence let Rovers hit back with two tries to take the lead for what was to be the only time in the game. With Jack Howieson coming back off the bench to boost the forwards, a Craig Brown try and a second for Farrow restored the lead only for Rovers to be gifted a try which narrowed the Eagles advantage to 26-24 at the break. The next score was going to be crucial but despite being a man down Lindsay and Hay made the opening for Woodcock to race in two minutes after the restart. Soon after the fullback kicked a penalty. Then the tries just kept coming with Alasdair McClarron, Jon Presley, Martin Ostler, and James Ford sealing the win as the Eagles raced to victory.A late consolation effort from Featherstone did not change the outcome, a welcome win 56-30 win to Sheffield.
Easter Monday saw a top of the table clash at Don Valley with the visit of Celtic Crusaders.The Eagles took an early lead through a penalty from Johnny Woodcock and a try from Alisdair McClarron. Celtic responded with two tries to draw level, with the home side down to 12 men, due to Dean Andrews being sin binned. It stayed like that until after the interval when the visitors went ahead 18-12. Tries from Brendan Lindsay and McClarron put the home side back in the driving seat, but poor defence enabled Celtic to again take the lead 20-18 with 58 minutes gone.However, Sheffield snatched back the lead in the final 20 minutes. Andy Hay had always looked the most likely Eagles’ player to break the Crusaders’ defensive line before running on to hooker Paul Pickering’s pass on 71 minutes to the delight of the Don Valley crowd. Victors 22-20 and top of the league.
But the next two league games would bring the Eagles down to earth. Following the gruelling NRC game against Whitehaven, they were next at home facing Workington Town.In the first half Workington did their best to hand the game to the Eagles with a series of errors. Eagles' centre James Ford helped himself to a hat-trick of tries, claiming his first after a Workington error after only a minute. Then five minutes later winger Alasdair McClarron scored the second. But the warning flags were raised as Workington hit back with two tries. An Andy Hay try steadied the Eagles nerves but a further try kept Town within four points. Sheffield finished the half 38-22 ahead, with Ford's hat-trick try and skipper Andy Smith touching down.
The Eagles scored the first try of the second half from Johnny Woodcock, from a position created by a 40-20 kick by Lindsay, to go 22 points ahead. Yet Town battled back as they tightened their defence and exposed the Eagles' fragile cover. Workington started to move the ball around faster and hit back with three quick tries.On 71 minutes they scored again. Sheffield were behind for the first time in the game and the visitors held on to take the win. Woodcock kicked six goals for the Eagles in the 44-46 defeat. They had lost their unbeaten record, as well top spot in the league.
A further defeat followed at the start of May, with a trip to league leaders, Dewsbury Rams. From the kick-off the Eagles had to face a battering from the Rams’ pack. Dewsbury took the lead with a penalty and around the quarter hour mark scored their first converted try. But the visitors hit back. They won the ball back from the kick-off and Andy Hay forced his way through before stretching to touchdown. The Rams edged ahead again. Scrum-half Jon Presley’s 70-metre break and chip, which just eluded James Ford, almost saw the Eagles recapture the lead, but they went in at half-time 12-6 down.
The opening 20 minutes of the second half saw unrelenting Dewsbury pressure matched by great defending by the visitors. The Rams finally broke through with a converted try on 61 minutes. Sheffield eventually broke their shackles and battled into the Rams’ half with Brendon Lindsay dropping on Presley’s chip kick for his ninth try of the season. The conversion reduced the margin to six points. Unfortunately, there was to be no miracle recovery as Dewsbury forced their way over for a try on 72 minutes, followed by a drop goal, to put two scores between the sides. The Rams added a penalty with the last kick of the game.Defeated 12-27, the Eagles found themselves in fifth spot.
Winning ways resumed with the next visitors to Don Valley, promotion rivals Gateshead Thunder.Sheffield were boosted by the return of Mitch Stringer on a month’s loan from Salford, however, were hit with the stretchering off of the very effective prop Simon Morton after only three minutes. Gateshead took the lead a minute after Morton's injury with a try, which stimulated the Eagles into a quick response with a converted try from Andy Hay. Minutes later Gateshead scored again, but Sheffield were starting to look the sharper side and stronger in defence, despite being a man down after the sin binning of skipper Andy Smith for a high tackle. Jon Presley was the next to score, he scooted 25 metres through the Gateshead defence to touchdown under the post. A conversion and penalty from Johnny Woodcock gave the home side a 14-8 lead at the break.
The Eagles stepped up the pressure from the restart and dominated possession. Jimmy Walker scored his first try for the Eagles on his home debut. It was swiftly followed by a try from James Ford. Gateshead briefly hit back with a soft try, but it was only a brief scare as Lindsay intercepted a pass before sending away Ford, who touched down after an 80-metre dash to the line. Worrincy crowned the night with an interception on the Eagles line before powering away the length of the field for a further try. Woodcock added both goals.Victory for Sheffield, 38-14, with a move up to third spot in the league.
An away game against London Skolars was next on the agenda. Sheffield produced a solid performance in awful conditions to beat the Skolars. More than 30 handling errors by the two teams littered a sloppy, uninspiring game. It all started with London knocking-on Johnny Woodcock's kick-off. The Eagles scored after four minutes, Andy Smith finishing off a good move. Gavin Brown and Brendon Lindsay kept asking questions with astute kicking throughout the game, and it was Lindsay who scored the second try after 18 minutes.Despite a penalty to the Skolars, Woodcock was on the end of a good passing move out to the wing and he touched down in the corner. After 38 minutes, Stringer proved unstoppable from five metres out. Woodcock's second conversion made it 20-2 at the break.
The Skolars scored their only converted try after 48 minutes. Sheffield then stiffened their defence, made good kicking decisions, and generally disrupted London's possession, as well as scoring three tries in the final quarter. Firstly, Jon Presley between the posts, then James Ford on 74 minutes and the last was Woodcock’s. His conversion gave him 18 points for the match and the Eagles the tie, 38-10.
The month ended with a home fixture against Hunslet Hawks. With a cagey start in the early exchanges of the first half, the Eagles took the lead on 19 minutes with Rob Worrincy scoring in the corner. Hunslet hit back three minutes later with a converted try between the posts, but Alasdair McClarron restored Sheffield’s lead. However, A penalty by Hunslet and a converted try gave the visitors a 14-12 lead at the interval.In the second half Eagles stepped up a gear.
Hunslet scored the first points of the half with a penalty on 47 minutes, but the home side were soon level when Waisale Sovatabua produced an unstoppable power drive to force his way over the line. The Eagles were looking the stronger as the game went into the final quarter, and they took the lead with Worrincy's solo 60-metre dash to the line and his second converted try. Further converted tries by James Ford and Jimmy Walker made the game safe despite a late consolation try for the Hawks.A 34-20 victory and second in the league.
Off the field the Board were starting to express some concern over the numbers attending matches.
June saw the Eagles start with a trip to Gateshead Thunder. Sheffield hardly touched the ball in the opening ten minutes as Gateshead put the first points on the board. Johnny Woodcock then hit a gap to score between the posts followed by James Ford touching down in the corner as the Eagles rallied. Thunder were next to score as play ebbed and flowed, with the home side exposing defensive frailties in the Eagles defensive line. By the break Thunder lead 14-12.
It was Sheffield who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck with two converted tries after the restart, which should have been the platform for victory. Waisale Sovatabua scored between the posts and then Mitchell Stringer's superb offload on the line put Lindsay in as the Eagles opened a potentially match winning advantage. A resilient Thunder, however, were given a lifeline with a knock on inside the visitors ten from which they scored. Sheffield had failed to put the game to bed, and a rejuvenated Gateshead were level when the Eagles gave away two penalties and a kick on the last saw Thunder in again. Despite Sovatabua’s attempted long range field goal, a late Gateshead drop goal settled it, 27-26. Thunder, led by an impressive pack, had eked out a victory against the odds in a game that Sheffield contrived to throw away.Whilst the visitors had three tries disallowed for differing reasons, saw certain tries bombed or held up over the line, they failed to find the form that had brought three consecutive wins, falling to a side playing its third game in eight days. The Eagles were down to fourth place.
Barrow Raiders were the next home tie. Sheffield gave a debut to former Castleford Lock Lane back rower Tommy Trayler who showed up well when he came off the bench. A close first 40 minutes saw the Eagles score the only tries of the half but because of indiscipline, penalty awards to Barrow had the teams going in level at 8 all.The home side’s tries had come courtesy of Sean Dickinson and Jon Presley.
The Eagles second half display had the visitors reeling and even being denied a single try as a consolation.The deadlock was broken on 56 minutes with Alistair McClarron intercepting a wild pass from the Raiders to run 50 metres to touchdown. Gavin Brown added the goal, following it up with a drop goal, then a penalty to ease the Eagles further ahead with 15 minutes to go. Brown capped a great performance with a try from Presley's pass then added the goal with seven minutes to go. James Ford wrapped up the win after sprinting 70 metres for a late try, with Brown kicking the goal from the touchline.With the 29-8 win, Sheffield had moved back to third.
A visit to Celtic Crusaders was the next outing for the Eagles. Facing the home side’s recent recruit, Aled James, the Eagles dominated the initial period of the game, but their first handful of attempts were thwarted by the strong Crusaders’ defence. Their attacking was finally rewarded in the 11th minute when Jimmy Walker slid in to score. There was no more scoring until the 36th minute, despite strong attacks from both sides. Sean Dickinson was sin-binned for a late tackle, but Crusaders failed to take advantage. The Eagles kept attacking, but the Crusaders secured an equalising try on 36 minutes. That’s how it remained until after the interval.
Celtic were the first to score after the interval and added to their lead later in the game. The Eagles pulled a try back on 72 minutes when Sovatabua went in under the sticks, with Poucher converting, to produce a grandstand finish. The gamebreaker came a few minutes later when Sovatabua knocked on, giving a scrum to the Crusaders which resulted in a converted try under the sticks on 77 minutes. With their 28-12 victory, Celtic leap frogged the Eagles into top spot, with Sheffield moving to second place on points difference due to results elsewhere going their way. This was the last defeat that the Eagles experienced for the rest of their league season as, with their next home fixture against Featherstone Rovers, they started a 11-match winning run.
The Eagles, led by scrum-half Gavin Brown and second row forward Craig Brown dominated the first 40 minutes producing a powerful display in the opening half. They opened the scoring in less than two minutes with Brendon Lindsay crossing the Rovers line. This was quickly followed by Craig Brown claiming the second try, his 100th for the club. Rovers kept in touch with a try in the corner but the Eagles hit back with a try from Alasdair McClarron and a second for Craig Brown. They were helped by handling errors by Rovers. Featherstone reduced the deficit with a converted try two minutes from the break.However Gavin Brown, who was kicking with deadly accuracy, added a penalty just before half-time to send the Eagles in 26-10 ahead.
Rovers gave Eagles a scare soon after restart with another converted try under the posts followed by a penalty goal.Their next try narrowed the score to 2622 but relief came with winger Rob Worrincy picking up a loose pass to run 50 metres to score on 55 minutes. Sheffield steadied and tries from props Jack Howieson and Tom Buckenham - who twisted out of a couple of tackles before touching down - put the game safe. Gavin Brown capped a great display by bringing his goal tally to eight.Rovers got a 78 minutes consolation try, but it was too late to change the outcome, 44-28 to Sheffield and second place consolidated.
July witnessed a run of five victories. The first involved a trip to Barrow Raiders. Sheffield, playing in sweltering conditions, opened their account on eight minutes when Brendan Lindsay broke through a hole in the Barrow defence from 10 metres out to go over the line for 4-0. After being denied two further tries by the Raiders desperate scrambling defence, the gap increased when Craig Poucher made a break to score to the side of the posts. Barrow got themselves back into the game just before the interval when they went charging over for a try, the Eagles ahead 8-4 at the interval.
Sheffield started the second half the stronger, Dale Holdstock capitalising as the Raiders’ defence spilled a Lindsay kick into his hands to allow him to score. Barrow were making too many mistakes when they had the chance to attack, the ball being knocked-on on the first and second tackles. But somehow it was they and not Sheffield who scored next, cutting the gap to 16-12.That was as close as Barrow got, the Eagles scoring three further tries, two through Jon Presley and one from Greg Hurst to give them a deserved win, 32-12 and the double over the Raiders.
Next was a trip to perennial bogey team Swinton Lions. The Eagles went behind to an early penalty but a break by second row Andy Hay and debut centre Caldon Bravo produced an opening that sent in Lindsay for the first try converted by Gavin Brown.Swinton briefly held the lead with a bizarre try that saw a chip kick bounce off Eagles’ Dale Holdstock into the hands of a Lions’ player. But when Waisale Sovatabua and Martin Ostler came off the bench the substitutions paid off just before the break as Ostler dived on to Lindsay’s chip for a try. With the extras, the visitors had an 12-8 lead at the half-time.
After the interval, Sheffield rode out a spell down to 12 men, when Alasdair McClarron was sin binned, with the half backs kicking well for position. On his return to the pitch McClarron scored a try near the corner. Swinton got a soft run-in try but the Eagles snapped back to take the game after a 40-20 kick by Gavin Brown lifted a period of Lions’ pressure. From the resultant play Lindsay’s chip kick was dived on by Jimmy Walker for the vital try on 74 minutes. With a minute to go Caldon Bravo completed the victory with a try.The 24-14 win ended the Swinton hoodoo, enabling the Eagles to keep second place behind Dewsbury Rams, but now one point ahead of the rest of the chasing pack.
Revenge was on the Eagles agenda when they visited Workington Town in midJuly. Sheffield opened the game with a Martin Ostler in the second minute.
Tries ran thick and fast for the next 17 minutes. Alasdair McClarron got over on 11 minutes with a Town player on his back for an unconverted try and six minutes later Andy Smith went in. On the l9th minute, Craig Poucher touched down in a gap for Brown to convert and take the Eagles's points tally to 22 without reply.Workington scored the next, but Sheffield came back quickly, however, with a fifth try on the half-hour through Dale Holdstock and a further three minutes later another one from McClarron, both unconverted. Next on the score sheet was Caldon Bravo who sliced through the paper-weight defence with ease. So, the much superior Eagles changed round 36-6 ahead with the game as good as won.
The second half was only four minutes old when the visitors resumed where they left off - with a converted try, the touch-down this time coming from Waisale Sovatabua. In the next three minutes Sheffield had increased their lead even further when Presley grabbed a ball on the bounce and sailed over. Fifty minutes came and Lindsay put up the half-century of points. But although Town knew they were beaten, they continued to show a little spirit on 57 minutes with a battling try in the corner. The Eagles were not satisfied with their tally and on 62 minutes Bravo galloped from halfway to score. Late tries from Paul Pickering (68 minutes) and Presley (78), brought an end to a resounding Eagles victory. With conversions from Gavin Brown (4) and Craig Poucher (5) the visitors went home happy, 70-10. Sheffield’s all-round performance had Town beaten in defence, in tackling and in ball control.
London Skolars were next in the firing line at Don Valley. The Eagles were ahead after only one minute when Dale Holdstock charged down a kick and ran on to collect the ball for the try. Caldon Bravo celebrated his Don Valley debut for the Eagles with two tries including dramatically collecting a Skolars’ high kick before running 80 metres to the try line. Between those scores impressive fullback Craig Poucher forced his way over from close in and skipper Andy Smith finished off a break by Mitch Stringer and Jon Presley. Presley was next on the scoreboard. A couple of other efforts were ruled out after borderline decisions by the referee as the Eagles looked able to score at will. Centre Jimmy Walker rounded off the half with a try in the final minute. Gavin Brown converted all the tries to pass the 900-points mark for the Eagles and at half-time they had the game won at 42-0 ahead.
The game slowed after the break with London seeing more of the ball and the edge going off the Eagles’ game. But the Eagles’ defence was strong and helped by a laboured build up by London. It was not until 60 minutes had elapsed that the Eagles increased their lead with a try from James Ford who raced down the line, but the conversion attempt failed. Victory by 46-0, the only negative aspect of the day was Grant Farrow bring stretchered off with a dislocated kneecap.
The end of the month brought the reverse home tie against Swinton Lions. The Eagles took the lead with a penalty in front of the posts from Gavin Brown after seven minutes, but struggled to dominate in a game punctuated by a series of penalties that broke both sides’ rhythm. Swinton went ahead and could have extended their lead on two occasions, but handling errors and good late tackles saw them drop the ball when a try seemed on. They redeemed themselves with a penalty and a try three minutes from half-time. The Eagles were paying for handling errors and although stand-off Brendon Lindsay was trying to get them moving, they couldn’t break down a strong Swinton defence and went in 10-2 down at the break.
It was a different Eagles’ side after the restart with Lindsay and Gavin Brown setting up a series of fast moves that rocked Swinton back. Martin Ostler to score a breakback try for Sheffield two minutes after the restart. A 40-20 kick by Gavin Brown set up the next try with Lindsay providing a chip kick for James Ford to swoop on to the ball. With Gavin Brown adding the conversions for both tries the Eagles were in the lead 14-10. Next to score were the visitors which set up a frantic final 20 minutes. With ten minutes to go Presley intercepted a Swinton pass to race 60 metres to the try line and claim the score that settled the game, 18-14.
August continued in the same vein as three more games brought further victories. Blackpool Panthers were the next to receive the Eagles.Sheffield were 16-2 ahead by half time. Captain Andy Smith grabbed the first try and Greg Hurst raced in for two.Blackpool’s only points were from a penalty for a high tackle. Rob Worrincy was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet as his speed and agility was a constant worry to Blackpool. Hurst almost went in for his hat-trick, but desperate Panthers just forced him into touch as he went to dive over.
After the interval James Ford stretched Eagles’ lead with the easiest try, he would ever score. All the centre had to do was put a hand on the ball after a Blackpool player fumbled a kick into the in-goal. The Panthers replied with an unconverted effort, but the Eagles soon extended the gap to 22 points with a converted try from Caldon Bravo. The home side scored from the kick off, but visitors soon had extended their lead further to 24 points, Mitchell Stringer barging his way through to score. Despite Blackpool scoring again, Waisale Sovatabua rounded off the Eagles’ try tally with five minutes to go with Blackpool again scoring with seconds to go. A not very convincing Sheffield victory, 40-20, had Gary Wilkinson suggesting that some of his players were not as focused as they should have been, having their mind on the forthcoming home fixture against top of the table Dewsbury Rams.
In front of a crowd of 1,186, a closely contested match at Don Valley saw the Eagles achieve their eighth win in a row to bring the gap between the top two teams in the table down to just two points. The match was an exciting affair with the teams equally matched in terms of skill and scores were levelled on three separate occasions, but Sheffield managed to do what the Rams failed to do three times and won the game with a drop-goal in the last few minutes. A poor kicking display from the Dewsbury Rams and a penalty count of 13-6 in favour of Sheffield also contributed to the result.
The Rams were the first to score but missed the conversion.But on 18 minutes Jon Presley scooted from dummy half to score and Craig Poucher’s kick took the Eagles into the lead.This lead was extended a few minutes later when James Ford sped onto a pass from Andy Hay and steamed over the line, the Eagles taking advantage of having a Dewsbury player in the sinbin. A late Rams try and a penalty on the hooter sent the two sides in level-pegging.
Two minutes after the re-start and a kick over the top from Lindsay was picked up by winger Caldon Bravo to touch down and regain the lead. The Rams fought back, however, and three minutes later scored in the corner. Both kicks were missed, bringing the scores level again.At the 50-minute point Rob Worrincy was deemed to have knocked on and from the resultant scrum Dewsbury scored and converted.It was then Sheffield’s turn to fight back, Presley taking an offload from Lindsay and passing back on the inside to Bravo who scored under the posts. The easy conversion made it 20-a-piece with just over 15 minutes to go. Both teams were desperate to win and three failed drop-goal attempts from Dewsbury had the fans’ hearts in their mouths until Lindsay sealed the win with a successful one-pointer at the other end of the field. Sheffield had won, by the narrowest of margins, 21-20, pulling closer to the league leaders and widening the gap with the chasing pack.
The final game of the month pitted Sheffield against lowly Keighley Cougars at Cougar Park. After weathering a bright start by the Cougars, the Eagles were too sharp and had too much power for the home side. Keighley scored the first points on 14 minutes but from then on rarely got a look in. Minutes later Waisale Sovatabua came off the bench and added the extra punch that had the Cougars reeling. The Fijian was outstanding as the Eagles ran in eleven tries. He finished the game as the main playmaker after stand-off after Brendon Lindsay was taken off as a precaution following an injury. Prop forward Simon Morton returned to action for the Eagles after missing 13 games follow breaking a bone in his foot.
The Eagles ball handling was too fast for the Cougars with many of the tries coming from sweeping passing moves. Lindsay and centre Caldon Bravo sent in loose-forward Sean Dickinson for the try that took the Eagles into the lead on 21 minutes. Lindsay, the games dominant half-back kicked through for hooker Paul Pickering to add a second try with Sovatabua powering over for the third following a chip penalty. James Ford grabbed a poor pass from Keighley to run in seconds before half-time and Craig Poucher’s two successful conversions gave the Eagles a comfortable 20-2 lead at the break.
Skipper Andy Smith set the tone for the second half with a try after only three minutes and Rob Worrincy finished off a 10-man passing move for try number six. Johnny Woodcock celebrated his return from injury with a hat-trick of tries.I n between Keighley eased the home fans gloom with two tries, both converted. Yet the Eagles grip never slackened and Ford motored in from 60 metres for his second try in the game with three minutes to go. Woodcock kicked the conversion, his fifth successful goal attempt from seven, to finish with a personal total of 22 points. The final score 58-14 to Sheffield.
As September started, two games were left to secure top spot from Dewsbury. The first tie was at home against Blackpool Panthers. Former Castleford Tigers centre Damien Reid made his debut for the Eagles and ex-Hull KR prop Paul Fletcher returned after being out with a broken ankle since March. Fletcher’s return only lasted until half-time after he fractured a bone in his left hand and decided to call it a day.
Blackpool put in some testing high kicks briefly in the early stages of the half, but as the first half evolved the home side's power and swifter passing told. Winger Rob Worrincy scored the opening try in the corner.It was soon followed by Jimmy Walker going over the line. Sean Dickinson scored the third try and Martin Ostler raced in a touchdown minutes later. Gavin Brown and Fletcher sent in Waisale Sovatabua and Johnny Woodcock capitalised on a fumble by a Blackpool player to claim the half's sixth try. Woodcock converted all but the first try for a half-time lead of 34-0.
There was no escape for Blackpool after the break with Walker getting his second try on 45 minutes. Waisale Sovatabua powered over under the sticks from 10 metres on 50 minutes, but for a period the Eagles lost their earlier cutting edge. With four minutes to go Ostler's pace produced the opening for centre James Ford to bring up the 50 points. Woodcock kicked the goal, his eighth successful attempt of the game.Y et another win for Sheffield, 52-0, which temporarily took them to top of the table on points difference. But when Dewsbury beat Barrow, two days later, the Eagles were again second.
The final match of the season took the Eagles to Hunslet Hawks. Sheffield had started the game with an attacking burst that saw them score four tries in the first 15 minutes. Centre Caldon Bravo opened the scoring with an interception try and captain Andy Smith barged his way over from a neat pass from scrum-half Gavin Brown. James Ford scored at the corner after collecting a chip kick from playmaker Brendon Lindsay. Next, he out jumped the opposition to collect Lindsay’s high bomb kick for his second try before going off injured. The Eagles then lost their way with Hunslet pulling back tries for Hunslet before the break with the Eagles leading 22-10.
The second half saw too many wild passes and handling mistakes but the Eagles, with Gavin Brown producing some nice touches and a power-packed pack that included former Hull KR prop Jon Aston making his debut, were always too strong. Rob Worrincy finished a sweeping passing move for the Eagles fifth try a minute after the restart. Hunslet pulled a try back, but the Eagles hit back with Lindsay providing the pass for Jonny Woodcock to weave through. Centre Jimmy Walker and bustling burst that took Lindsay across the try line increased the Eagles lead before Woodcock got his second on 76 minutes. Woodcock brought his points total to 20 with kicked six goals from nine attempts. The Eagles finished the season with their eleventh consecutive victory, 48-16. The victory was marred by an incident in the final minute. It left Eagles’ prop forward Jack Howieson needing stitches in a head wound and Hunslet’s Danny Elis getting a chance to turn on the showers after being red carded for throwing a punch.
As news came through of Dewsbury’s victory over Workington, securing them the automatic promotion spot, the Eagles had to now contemplate how they could get into Division One via the play offs.
Commenting on the Eagles performance during the regular season, Mark Aston told supporters:
Throughout the season the Board had expressed concern about the numbers attending Eagles home games and urged supporters to help to encourage their contacts to attend. Yet average attendance rose during the season, albeit not in high numbers, from 845 to 892, an increase of 6%, reversing the previous year on year decline. This compared to the average of all Division 2 clubs of 711, which had fallen 25% since the previous year, whilst that of Dewsbury Rams, the automatically promoted club had fallen 19% to 878. Only Featherstone and Barrow had home gates greater than Sheffield, and they were not competing against the attraction of two well supported football clubs.
To help boost the revenues of the club, the Board throughout the season looked at involving more businesses to become involved through the sponsorship of the Eagles.Initiatives such as “Your Brand for a Grand” and other business targeted events.Supporters were urged to get involved through fund raising through expanding the Golden Gamble lottery and donating to the “Keep Mitch on the Pitch” campaign.
The Eagles had a week off before they had to face third placed Celtic Crusaders at Don Valley in the Qualifying Semi- Final. The victor would automatically qualify for the Grand Final, whilst the loser would have to play the winner of the two knockout stages.
In front of a disappointing home crowd of only 760. A desperately tight first half saw both defences being tested with Celtic finishing stronger. Both teams had to struggle with a wet pitch with patches of standing water but produced some swift passing moves. The Eagles took the lead on eight minutes when Mitchell Stringer took Gavin Brown’s short pass and jinked his way, with ballet like ease, through Celtic tacklers to cross the try line near the posts. Johnny Woodcock added the goal. Celtic pulled two points back with a penalty for a high tackle.Both sides had chances to score tries. Celtic were building the pressure, helped by seven penalties awarded against the Eagles, and levelled the score on 27 minutes. Celtic went in looking the more dangerous side with the score 6-6 at half-time.
It was a vastly different Eagles side that came out in the second half.The forwards dominated possession and hooker Paul Pickering was outstanding as the Eagles blew Celtic away with constant pressure and a great kicking game. Stand-off Lindsay made the first breakthrough when he kicked on a fumble by Celtic player and touched down for a try two minutes into the second half. Woodcock added the conversion and kicked a penalty before Lindsay set up the next try for Walker with a kick. Woodcock added the goal. Jimmy Walker showed his predatory instinct as he claimed his second when a Celtic player missed a chip kick. Woodcock failed to convert but had no problems with a penalty to put the Eagles 26-6 ahead. Celtic hit back with two in the final minutes but the Eagles were never in danger. Sheffield were in their second Grand Final since being reformed, 26-16. Hopefully this time they could go one better and win the game at the first attempt this time.
Celtic went into the Elimination semi-final against Swinton which proved to be the team's last match of the season as the Lions won 26–27 after 91 seconds of Golden Point extra time.
The Grand Final was held on 8th October at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium. Sheffield had already done the double over Swinton Lions, after a period of several seasons when they did not win a game against them.
The game was decided by a storming six-minute spell either side of half-time as the Eagles ran in three tries. The scorers, Brendon Lindsay, Johnny Woodcock, and Rob Worrincy were three of the outstanding figures of the play-off final. Stand-off Lindsay with scrum half Gavin Brown and hooker Paul Pickering was also part of the play-making triangle that gave the Eagles the edge. Early in the first half Swinton’s tactics of a high deep kicks was nullified by good positioning and cool play from fullback Woodcock and wingers Worrincy and Greg Hurst.
Centre James Ford should have put the Eagles ahead but lost the ball over the line in a great tackle by a Swinton defender. Worrincy, playing his last league game before switching codes with Doncaster RUFC club, broke the deadlock on 21 minutes when Lindsay from first receiver put out a long pass to Ford who sent the winger flying in at the corner. Then it was Swinton piling on the pressure with Lindsay producing a great tackle to deny Swinton a try. The introduction of players off the bench resulted in the Lions’ tactics switched to a snappier passing game with instant results. A chip from beat Worrincy and the Lions winger dropped on the ball to put Swinton level on 31 minutes.
The next score for either side seemed critical, but the Eagles were looking the stronger and better organised with a series of forward substitutions clawing back possession. Up on the Swinton line a pass out from Pickering was flicked inside by Gavin Brown into the path of Lindsay who swept across the line near the posts on 37 minutes. Woodcock added the goal. The fullback put his name down for the man of the match award by chasing Lindsay’s chip kick and stealing the ball off a Swinton player to swoop across the line before adding the goal.
Half-time and the Eagles were leading 16-4 but there was more to come and in spectacular fashion. Less than three minutes after the restart a Lions chip landed straight in the hands of Worrincy on his own try line and the winger was off, racing the length of the field to plant the ball under the Swinton posts. Woodcock added the goal. Jack Howieson and Mitch Stringer came back on and sapped the strength of the Swinton forwards with their runs before a Pickering pass and a chip from Gavin Brown gave centre Jimmy Walker the touchdown. Woodcock added the goal.
On 60 minutes Martin Ostler started a move that ended with Lindsay sending out a looping pass for Andy Hay to score the Eagles’ final try. Woodcock made it five goals from six attempts.It was just reward for Hay, who along with Waisale Sovatabua and skipper Andy Smith put in big spells. The Eagles started to showboat a bit and paid the price with a consolation score for Swinton. But Gavin Brown slotted over an insurance drop goal with four minutes to go and all was left was for the joyous Eagles fans to enjoying counting down the final seconds on the Sky TV big screen. The hooter and referee’s whistle went, Sheffield had won a deserved victory, 35-10.
Glory days were back for Sheffield Eagles as they had totally outclassed a tough Swinton side to clinch promotion. After seasons battling just to survive the Eagles were to play in National League One – one step from the Super League – in the 2007 season.The Eagles had done it in style taking the best Swinton could throw at them then powering away to end the season with 13 straight victories.
For more detail about results and players visit the Rugby League Record Keepers Club website HERE.