AS soon as Batley Bulldogs secured their dramatic passage into a maiden Championship Grand Final, there was an instant realisation about the narrative that would unfold, writes Dave Craven.
That is because, of course, their coach John Kear would be taking on a Sheffield Eagles side tomorrow led by Mark Aston, who 15 years previously, had been his key playmaker during the South Yorkshire club’s finest hour.
Scrum-half Aston won the Lance Todd Trophy after his stellar kicking for Sheffield helped unpick Wigan Warriors and deliver the 1998 Challenge Cup final in one of the sport’s biggest upsets.
Now Aston is coach of the Eagles and bidding to make his own piece of history by seeing the champions become the first side to win consecutive Championship Grand Final victories.
To do that, he must outwit Kear – one of the big influences on his own career and whose current Batley side clearly play the role of underdogs again.
They are seeking to make history of their own by becoming the first club to win from outside the top four.
“It’s definitely a positive for Batley to have John Kear in charge,” said Aston.
“In 1998, when we won the Challenge Cup, he managed to get us all as a squad in a really good place and we won the competition.
“Batley have been outstanding this season and John has definitely played a big part in that.
“They are a good team, in a good place so Sunday will be a fascinating game.
“We won last year and now we’re looking to become the first side to win the final in back-to-back seasons which brings a certain pressure,” he said.
Sheffield have endured a difficult run-in, having slipped up in their bid to win the League Leaders’ Shield and then losing their opening play-off at home to Halifax.
They then had to beat Dewsbury Rams and away at Halifax to secure their place in a third successive final.
Aston, meanwhile, insists he has carved out his own style of management since following Kear into coaching.
“You take a little bit of everything from all the coaches you have played and worked under,” he said.
“I would be lying if I said that I haven’t taken anything from John.”