Championship fixtures: Sheffield Eagles heading home as Featherstone Rovers and York City Knights clash in televised opener

IT HAS been a long time coming, but the Eagles are getting ready to land back in Sheffield.

Nomadic: Sheffield Eagles have been playing outside of Sheffield for eight years, latterly at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Following the publication of the 2022 Championship fixtures, the club now have a date for the first game in their new permanent home at Olympic Legacy Park.

Eagles will be away for their first four fixtures, to ensure the new stadium is fully ready for its opening when Workington Town are the visitors on Sunday, March 6.

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It will be an emotional afternoon for everyone associated with the Steel City club, particularly long-time coach Mark Aston who has been at the forefront of the battle to keep rugby league alive in Sheffield.

“It is very exciting,” said Aston. “The four away games are to ensure if anything goes wrong there’s time to get it all sorted.

“It is exciting to be back in the city after eight years.

“It is remarkable how we have held it together and people have supported us through it.”

Eagles have led a nomadic existence, largely outside the city, since their Don Valley Stadium base was demolished in 2013, but Aston is confident the new facility will be worth the wait.

“It is a rugby stadium” he stressed. “It is going to be significantly different to the old Don Valley.

“Spectators are close to the action, which is what’s great about rugby league; you can hear the contact and the collisions and the atmosphere will be a lot better.”

Though it has been a long and winding road to this point, Aston is confident the stadium is on course for a February opening.

He noted: “The roof is on and they are making it waterproof now so they can get all the work done inside.

“It is good for us because we are down there training at the moment and you can see it all coming together.

“It gets the hairs standing up on the back of your neck.

“All the steelwork and brickwork is completed; it is great – we are coming back home, finally.

“Sometimes you have to go through a bit of pain to get to where you want to be.

“If you’d told me in 2013 it would be eight years, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Relegated Leigh Centurions and last season’s Grand Final runners-up Featherstone Rovers, who meet in round two, are likely to be among the promotion favourites, but Aston believes the Championship in 2022 will be stronger than ever.

“It is going to be a great competition,” he predicted. “It is exciting, I think it is going to get better and better.

“You look at some of the signings that have been made; some of the teams last year, like Whitehaven and Batley were very good, all teams are going to have to raise the bar.

“Look at what Halifax have recruited, it is going to be tough.

“You have to be ready for the first week and be consistent, or you are going to come unstuck.”

The pick of the round one weekend sees Featherstone travel to York for a televised fixture. Sheffield make the long trip to promoted Barrow, Batley are at home against Halifax and another Yorkshire derby sees Bradford visit Dewsbury.

The Summer Bash, when an entire round of matches is played at the same ground over two days, will return this year – after a two-year absence because of Covid – on the weekend of July 30/31.

After five previous visits to Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road, the RFL have confirmed the Bash will have a new venue in 2023, but details and fixtures have yet to be revealed.

League One kicks off when Hunslet visit London Skolars on Saturday, March 26.

Doncaster are at home to Midlands Hurricanes, who have rebranded from Coventry Bears, the following afternoon, when Keighley Cougars travel to Oldham.

The first round of the Betfred Challenge Cup, involving community clubs, will take place in mid-January.

League One clubs will enter at the second round stage two weeks later, on the weekend the Championship kicks off.

Championship sides will join in from round four, on the weekend of February 26-27.

Super League fixtures will be announced later this month.