Eagles are aiming to cash in at Halifax’s expense

Eagles chief Mark Aston
Eagles chief Mark Aston
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Most of the current talk is understandably centred around the crucial ‘Million-Pound Game’ but, first, Sheffield Eagles have some important monetary business of their own to take care of.

Granted, their hopes of earning promotion from ‘The Qualifiers’ were always relatively faint and never really got off the ground.

The Championship club duly play their final fixture in the ‘Middle Eights’ against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats tomorrow at Bramall Lane knowing they will play no part in the lucrative fourth versus fifth showdown in a week’s time for the final Super League place in 2016.

It has already been confirmed that Wakefield and Bradford Bulls will battle that out, the venue is the only vagary, though Trinity know success tomorrow will confirm them as hosts regardless of what Bradford do against Halifax this afternoon.

Nevertheless, beneath them, there is still so much left to play for given the club that finishes sixth will receive £787,000 prize money compared to £500,000 for seventh and £450,000 for eighth.

Bottom-placed Sheffield hold up the rest but they are level on two points – courtesy of a solitary win against Halifax from six outings – with Championship rivals Halifax and Leigh Centurions, who visit Widnes tomorrow.

With almost an extra £300,000 at stake, a fortune for some second-tier clubs, it is not only that promotion-chasing pair that have plenty to play for.

Sheffield chairman Ian Swire, who will oversee his club switching to a full-time operation for 2016, told The Yorkshire Post: “This is an absolutely massive game for us.

“We’ve got quite a few players leaving and this is their last match so we want to send them off on a high.

“But it’s also well publicised what finances are at stake in the ‘Middle Eights’ and, if we better the result of Leigh and Halifax, it is a significant extra amount of money.

“It is all a bit bonkers especially as it could all go down to points difference and I don’t understand why they couldn’t have spread it more evenly.

“But, still, there is an awful lot of money being played for this weekend especially considering we got about £25,000 for winning the Grand Final three years ago.”

Swire says head coach Mark Aston is “confident” of gaining the victory over Wakefield, their Yorkshire opponents who finished bottom of Super League, that could catapult them into that prime sixth slot.

Even though they have failed against the top-flight sides so far, the Eagles have been competitive.

Swire said: “We’ve scored points against Super League sides but it is our own defensive mistakes rather than them being particularly great teams that has cost us.

“We’ve earned our tries but gifted them theirs as was the case last week against Hull Kingston Rovers when Ken Sio scored a hat-trick of tries (in a 38-28 defeat against the Challenge Cup finalists).”

The likes of prolific half-back Dominic Brambani, loose-forward Pat Walker, winger Scott Turner and centre Sam Smeaton will all sign off tomorrow, having decided to stay in their current jobs rather than switch to full-time status with Sheffield.

They hope to do so in style, especially with it being Aston’s 48th birthday, too, but Wakefield obviously have their own agenda.

Their veteran Australian coach, Brian Smith, realises the importance of being able to play the Bulls – who are bidding to make an immediate return to Super League at Trinity’s expense – at their own ground for that critical contest.

“Everyone knows that our opponents in the big game next week are going to be Bradford, but apart from that we’ve not discussed that game too much yet,” he insisted, having been left in pole position following last week’s 30-12 win over Halifax.

“We’re keen to back up what we did last week and finish ‘The Qualifiers’ on two wins in a row.

“But I went to watch Sheffield against Hull KR last Friday and they took them a long way into the match. They played as enthusiastically as any team who were chasing a big prize so I know this game will be just as hard as the rest and Sheffield will want to enjoy the off-season with a win.”