This year’s Good Friday match for Sheffield Eagles comes against Featherstone Rovers at the Big Fellas Stadium. Both sides have gone hard in battle against each other in the second tier for quite a few years now and with Featherstone improving by the game under coach Jon Sharp, and Sheffield struggling to find their feet as a full-time side, the competitive cycle should continue throughout 2016.
Last Time Out
Featherstone Rovers ended London Broncos’ unbeaten start to life on home turf as the West Yorkshire side progressed to the fifth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. Despite losing Anthony Thackeray and Michael Channing to injury, and going into half-time with a 14-4 deficit, Featherstone came out on top 48-26 with Ian Hardman scoring five tries. The first three tries of the match went the way of London courtesy of Elliot Kear, Alex Foster and Rhys Williams but, before the interval, Hardman notched his first score of the evening to get Featherstone on the board. Four consecutive tries for the visitors turned the game on its head with the final quarter of the match still to play. Hardman, Jack Ormondroyd, Sam Day and Kyran Johnson all touched down for the Rovers, who held a 26-14 lead after 57 minutes. London cut the deficit they faced with Foster’s second try of the tie but, soon after, Featherstone extended their lead on two separate occasions thanks to Scott Turner and Hardman. The Broncos’ William Barthau kept the game interesting by registering his own four pointer to make the score 36-26 to the visitors with ten minutes remaining. Hardman, who undoubtedly was the Man of the Match in Ealing, recorded two more tries to his tally in the dying embers to seal the win for Jon Sharp’s men.
Sheffield Eagles, who were smarting from their loss to Whitehaven in the league a week prior, beat Swinton Lions 32-28 in the fourth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. The Lions were in front for a good portion of the match but the Eagles woke up in time to hit the visitors with two tries in the final quarter to win the cup tie outright. It was Swinton who dominated the opening stages and they had three tries to show for their efforts. Stuart Littler, Macauley Hallett and Mike Morrison all scored for the Championship newbies as they went 18-0 up after as many minutes. Duane Straugheir and Menzie Yere struck tries in reply for Sheffield as the half-time score read 18-10 to the visitors. Swinton, in similar fashion to the first half, came out of the blocks very well and Hallett got on the scoresheet for a second time to extend his side’s lead to two scores. However, in the space of ten minutes, there was only two points separating the two teams after Ben Blackmore and Straugheir made their way over the chalk. A third score from Hallett was much needed for Swinton as the match went into the final quarter but, to their credit, the Eagles stood up when it mattered most. A second Blackmore try got Sheffield to within four points of their opponents and, following an eight point try scored by Cory Aston, the Eagles had the lead they were fighting for. Despite a sin-binning for Blackmore with five minutes to go, Sheffield won the game by a very slender margin and got their name in the hat for round five.
The hooking battle has been a very enticing one between Featherstone and Sheffield over recent years. Andrew Henderson and James Davey were very capable hookers for the Eagles while Andy Ellis was, and still is, a mainstay in the Rovers side. Nowadays, you’ll see Keal Carlile and Matty Fozard at dummy-half for the South Yorkshire side while Ellis still lines up for Featherstone, with either former Eagle John Davies or youngster Sam Day providing cover. Ellis didn’t play last weekend as he was cup-tied but he is part of the 19 man squad for Friday so a place back in the match day squad is expected. Davies and Day both featured against London so it’ll be interesting to see if Davies moves to the back-row, where he featured prominently at Sheffield, or whether coach Jon Sharp drops Day and rests him for the Easter Monday match against the Broncos.
In the grand scheme of things, these sort of matches could turn out to be very important for both sides’ chances of a top four finish. The high intensity battles, which started from 2011 when both contested the Championship Grand Final, have been enthralling up to now and they will continue to be just that as more games are played. Who will win the next instalment on Friday? – Featherstone by 10