Sheffield Steeldogs v Hull Seahawks: Jason Hewitt says fierce rivalry with Yorkshire rivals is 'most real' he's experienced
The two cities go head-to-head at Ice Sheffield on Saturday night, the first time Hewitt will have come face-to-face with former Pirates’ team-mate Matty Davies in a coaching capacity in a competitive fixture.
And while he acknowledges the regularly fiercely competitive nature of that top-flight match-up, he believes the homegrown nature of the second tier battle between his current team and, initially, the Hull Pirates and latterly, the Hull Seahawks, has often packed more punch – sometimes literally – albeit over a shorter lifespan.
Pre-season challenge games between the two produced a win apiece, but there is more at stake this time around as the Steeldogs look to close the gap on third-placed Seahawks.
“I’m looking forward to what will be a big test this weekend for us, it should be a feisty game,” said Hewitt, player-coach at the Pirates between 2017-2020.
“I think it’s the most real rivalry I’ve been a part of, to be honest. It was created through some real nasty things that happened in games and just having a genuine dislike for each other.
“Obviously I knew a lot of the guys in Sheffield and then there was the ownership issue with our owner in Hull being their previous owner, so there were a lot of things that created that hatred and it was real.
“We had some brilliant crowds and great games and we were playing for Championships on a regular basis.
“The nastiness was borne out of facing the same people year after year. With the Steelers and Panthers, obviously it’s a rivalry and it’s an historic thing and there have been some massive battles, but there is such a massive turnover (of players) each year, you always had like half a team to convince about the big rivalry.
“And while they did always buy into it, the Pirates-Steeldogs rivalry was a genuine homegrown hatred that continued for quite a few years, at least until Covid came along.”
Hewitt, of course, had Davies as one of his more productive players for a three-year stint in Hull. In 2018-19, the last season before the NIHL National league was born, the pair helped lead the Pirates to an historic treble.
Now Hewitt is on the other side of the Yorkshire derby and expects fireworks to resume in some capacity when the teams skate out to face each other on Saturday (face-off 7.30pm).
“I’m expecting a full-blooded effort on Saturday and it will be a good game against a good team,” added Hewitt, whose team close out their weekend with a trip to Shropshire to take on Telford Tigers.
“We’re a little bit inconsistent right now and losing games that we shouldn’t be but we’re getting there slowly.
“Between us and them, there are only about three or four points which is a bit crazy – but it shows that everyone is beating everyone else in this league. One good, four-point weekend can quickly change things for you.”
Earlier this week, Davies spoke of the respect he had for former Hull team-mate Hewitt, who was quick to return the compliment.
"Matty’s career speaks for itself,”said Hewitt. “He was great for me at Hull, really respectful. We certainly weren’t close in any way before we came together there and I think we were both wondering how it was all going to go – but we just got on like a house on fire.
“He’s a fiery guy and I’m similar but, yeah, when we were pulling in the same direction, it was a good team. He’s doing a great job in Hull and he has recruited a good team.
“Knowing Matty, last season would have been eating him alive every day, with their import situation, it was awful for them. But they’ve got a good ownership group and good people who are committed to it.
"And they have recruited a really good team, have brought back some big players like Bobby Chamberlain and Lee Bonner and their imports are pretty handy by the looks of it. They deserve everything they are getting at the minute.”