The Wembley Return
In 2019 the Sheffield Eagles won the inaugural 1895 Cup and maintained their unbeaten record at Wembley.
Whilst the 1998 Challenge Cup win is undoubtedly the greatest day in the history of Sheffield Eagles, Saturday the 24th of August 2019 holds a special place in the hearts of Eagles fans. Referred to by many of the younger supporters as ‘our ‘98’, the Eagles once again lifted silverware at Wembley after defeating Widnes Vikings 36-18 in the 1895 Cup. The victory was particularly special given the off-field difficulties the club had faced over the previous six years. It was an emotional day for many, with tears in the stands and on the side-line at fulltime.
Sponsored by AB Sundecks, the 1895 Cup was introduced for the 2019 season by the Rugby Football League (RFL) to provide supporters of clubs in the Championship and League One with a new route to Wembley. For decades the prospect of playing at Wembley had been an unattainable dream for those outside of the top division. As RFL CEO Ralph Rimmer put it during the competition’s press release, it was hoped that ‘the introduction of a realistic additional chance to reach Wembley (would) have a rejuvenating effect on clubs.’ Early round matches were to be played midweek, with many clubs voicing their concerns that this put unnecessary strain on part time players who already faced a congested fixture schedule. 8 League One clubs would compete in the first round, with the Championship clubs joining the 4 winners in the Second Round. This meant that the Eagles were only 3 games away from Wembley.
The Road to Wembley
The Eagles began their campaign with a demolition job away against Halifax at Cougar Park, Keighley, on Wednesday 5th June. The hosts fielded a squad of mostly reservists and academy players as a way of snubbing the new competition. They were no match for the Eagles, with 10 tries and 6 conversions easing the visitors to a resounding 52-8 victory.
The next round away against Doncaster was a much closer affair. The League One hosts dominated for much of the game, with the Eagles trailing 28-12 with around fifteen minutes to go. Quickfire tries from Ryan Millar, Josh Guzdek, Jason Crookes set up a grandstand finish. On the last play of the game a sensational break from Oliver Davies followed by some “Hail Mary” offloading saw halfback Anthony Thackeray crash over under the posts, much to the delight of the travelling support. Full time Doncaster 28-32 Eagles. And just like that the Eagles were one game away from a first Wembley appearance since 1998.
The semi-final against Batley was a real arm wrestle of a match. Torrential rain in the first half at the Olympic Legacy Park meant that both sides resorted to “up your jumper” type rugby, with the Eagles holding a narrow 6-2 lead thanks to a Joel Farrell try. Late second half scores from Jacob Ogden (66) and Oliver Davies (79) sealed the Wembley return, with great scenes of celebration at fulltime between players and fans.
The Night Before and the Spirit of '98
The night before the finalmembers of the 1998 Challenge Cup winning squad addressed the players at their hotel in London. The likes of former captain Paul Broadbent- father of current player Blake Broadbent-, former manager John Kear, and of course Mark Aston himself gave emotional speeches on what it took and what it meant to win at Wembley. The players of ’98 had cemented their names in Eagles and rugby league history. Now it was time for the 2019 squad to do the same.Wembley awaited.
Played in a largely empty Wembley after the Challenge Cup final, the game started badly for Sheffield. Opponents Widnes Vikings raced into a 12-point lead after back-to-back tries in the 14th and 16th minutes. Aaron Brown responded for the Eagles on 22 minutes from close range, and Anthony Thackeray levelled the game three minutes later after running 70 meters. A third Widnes try five minutes from half time meant that the Eagles had work to do in the second half. Halftime Eagles 12-18 Widnes. The second half was all Eagles, who played some first-class rugby. Joel Farrell reduced the deficit to 2 points on 41 minutes after pouncing on a bomb that was misjudged by the Widnes fullback, before Aaron Brown put the Eagles up by 4. Corey Makelim finished off a scintillating attacking move which started in the Widnes half on 55 minutes, diving over under the sticks. Brown completed his hat-trick on 76 minutes, and a Patch Walker penalty goal on the hooter completed the scoring. Full time Sheffield Eagles 36-18 Widnes Vikings. The Eagles had once again won at Wembley!
It was clear just how much the win meant to players, staff, and fans alike.At fulltime players rushed over towards the corner of Wembley where the typically small but noisy Eagles contingent were located. It was just reward for the supporters, who had suffered six years of uncertainty after the club was made homeless at the end of the 2013 season. Many in the stands had dipped into their own pocket to keep the club afloat when the Eagles faced financial ruin in 2016. There were tears of joy in the stands and on the pitch, with Mark Aston looking particularly emotional as he was congratulated by the Eagles fans. After raising the Cup on the famous Wembley balcony, the players deservedly headed off for some heavy celebrations. The next day some rather worse for wear looking players and staff returned to the Steel City, with fans welcoming them to the New Barrack Tavern pub on Penistone Road. A formal Civic Reception was later organised for the victorious Eagles at Sheffield Town Hall.
Share your memories
Do you have any memories of that day? You can share them with the Heritage Project here.