Eagles out to make history by retaining title

THERE is none of Super League’s familiarity when it comes to the Championship’s big day.

Sheffield Eagles' Michael Knowles.

Whereas Leeds Rhinos have dominated the elite division, winning five of the last six Grand Finals, remarkably no club has ever retained the title in the tier below since the showpiece was introduced.

In the four years since the promotion drawbridge was pulled up by licencing there have been four different champions – Barrow Raiders (2009), Halifax (2010), Featherstone Rovers (2011) and Sheffield Eagles (2012).

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Featherstone may have finished top in each of the last four years, but they have only actually succeeded at the Grand Final once in having lost in deciders to both Halifax and Sheffield.

Similarly, when Hunslet Hawks (1999) and Dewsbury Rams (2000) won their Grand Finals – but were denied elevation to Super League – neither could back up the feat.

Therefore, Sheffield are just 80 minutes away from making history at Leigh tomorrow as they bid to become the first team to win consecutive Championship Grand Finals against Batley Bulldogs.

The South Yorkshire club, who finished second, are going in as favourites but they know that matters little having been billed the same position in the Northern Rail Cup final earlier this season only to lose to Leigh.

Sheffield second-row Michael Knowles, who won the Tom Bergin Trophy as man of the match in last year’s Grand Final victory over Featherstone, said: “I wouldn’t say there’s extra pressure on us because we’re not looking at ourselves as favourites.

“If you look at the results of the two teams, Batley are coming into the game with better form, so we won’t be taking them lightly.

“Form certainly counts for something. It always helps if you can be going into these games with confidence and we are, especially on the back of a great result against Halifax but this is a one-off match.

“We’ll both be raising our game, but it tends to come down to who plays best over the 80 minutes.

“We’ve beaten them both times this season, so you can say that it gives us a bit of a boost mentally, but when you look at the score for both games there wasn’t much in it and we’re expecting another tight game on Sunday.”

This is Sheffield’s third consecutive Grand Final appearance whereas Batley – who came fifth but won golden point victories at both Leigh and Featherstone in the play-offs – are playing in their first.