We’re getting closer to the new season, slowly but surely. The new season is the most important for the Championship in quite some time, and the Sheffield Eagles certainly know that. A change of scenery will occur in 2015, the Eagles will be playing their home matches at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium. The general consensus is that the decision to move away from Owlerton to the Keepmoat is a good one, a bigger pitch which suits the expansive Eagles style of play is music to everyone’s ears. More about the change of stadia later, I’ll start with the eight new signings that are coming to the Sheffield club for the upcoming season, with a statement of intent lingering.
The new Eagles – The pick of the signings includes Jamie Langley who joins from Super League club Hull KR. Langley’s had injury troubles time after time but he’s won everything in British rugby league with Bradford, the experience he brings to the fore will be invaluable. The other relatively known players coming in are that of second rower John Davies from Batley, Tony Tonks and Rob Worrincy from Halifax and centre Sam Smeaton, arriving from Featherstone. Ben Musolino joins from recently relegated Barrow Raiders, an Italian international who comes to South Yorkshire with high regard from former boss Bobbie Goulding. The two players coming from Australia all come with good reputations from their respective former clubs. Steve Thorpe adds to an already bulky pack, Thorpe leaves Queensland Cup side Easts Tigers where he was club captain. Blake South gives James Davey competition for the hooking role next season. South, a former Penrith Panthers junior, arrives in England from North Sydney Bears who play in the New South Wales Cup. The eight signings can leave the Eagles fans optimistic for the season ahead, a very strong squad at Mark Aston’s disposal as Sheffield try to play their way into the second group of Super 8’s and have a shot at the Super League clubs.
Owlerton to the Keepmoat – The 2014 home campaign was definitely one to forget for Sheffield Eagles. Winning five and losing seven could be classed as relegation form, if it wasn’t for the superior away form, the club would have been in trouble. Something needed to be done and the rumours were rife, New York Stadium in Rotherham or Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster? Sharing a stadium with either of the Sheffield football clubs was out of the question from the start, nobody gets in the way of football in Sheffield! Doncaster is the next port of call for Sheffield, with Doncaster Rovers, Doncaster RLFC and Club Doncaster all in agreement that the Eagles playing at the stadium is a good decision. Doncaster RLFC and Sheffield Eagles will both be playing double-headers at the Keepmoat throughout 2015, with the Dons kicking off at 2pm and the Eagles at 4:15pm. A brilliant thing for South Yorkshire rugby, as there’s some mouthwatering double-headers for the crowds to take in. For the Eagles as a whole, the bigger pitch at the Keepmoat will certainly suit the players down to the ground. The easy on the eye rugby style, accustomed to the Eagles in past years, will definitely be on show as Aston’s men look to play their way to the top tier.
The opposition for 2015 – The 2015 Kingstone Press Championship promises to be the toughest the second tier has been in a long time. Three full-time teams occupy the league and you wouldn’t be looked at twice if you predicted that they’d finish in the top three spots. Fuifui Moimoi (Leigh Centurions), Josh Cordoba (London Broncos), and Karl Davies (Bradford Bulls) are just three of the signings made by the full-time clubs that show the prop power they possess. Class oozes throughout all three teams but full-time rugby isn’t the be all and end all of Championship rugby in 2015, there’s quality from top to bottom. You’ve got Halifax and Featherstone who have recruited handily, the former under a new coach which will bring a more entertaining rugby style. Watch out for Cook Islander Adam Tangata and Australian Ryan Verlinden for Halifax and Featherstone respectively. Dewsbury, who are Sheffield’s first opponents in the 2015 Championship, have really delved deep into the player market and will be hoping to shock a few teams who have Super League ambitions. Ryan Fieldhouse and Zach Johnson are just two of the additions made by Glenn Morrison for the ‘new era.’ Batley have acquired two Eagles players for 2015, in the shape of go-forward prop Tom Lillycrop and out of favour centre Shaun Squires. John Kear’s men will be hoping to have a steady season, with dual-reg gate a thing of the past. The two Cumbrian clubs have used the strong amateur links in the county to strengthen their roster. Theerapol Ritson, a try scorer against the touring Australian Schoolboys last week, has joined Workington while GB and England amateur international John Paul Brocklebank has made the short trip to Whitehaven, who are under the stewardship of Steve Deakin. Sheffield’s fellow Keepmoat tenants Doncaster have gained three of Sheffield’s youngsters that have grown through the youth academy. Alex Palmer, Tom Holt and Mitchell Vincent have all made the switch and they’ll be wanting to force their way in to a competitive Dons side. Hunslet were dramatically promoted to the Championship after a golden point win in the play-off final against Oldham. The Hawks have made some shrewd moves pre-2015, former Eagles halfback Simon Brown and hooker George Flanagan are two of the Championship stalwarts that will be plying their trade at the South Leeds Stadium.
All the Championship teams will give the Eagles a top challenge, anybody can beat anybody and there’ll be no underestimation, or slacking off, as they may have been last season. It’s fair to say whatever happens during 2015, there’ll be no shortage of quality, entertainment and drama in the second tier of British rugby league.