Sheffield Eagles 34 Widnes 24: Welcome home as Eagles celebrate with victory
Located on the site of the former Don Valley Stadium, the Eagles are in familiar surroundings at the Olympic Legacy Park.
The excitement inside the ground was palpable long before the players ran out in front of the Premier Sports cameras.
For the club’s loyal supporters who have clocked up more miles than they would care to remember following their side, it was a moment to savour.
The one disappointment for the Eagles was that only 800 spectators were allowed inside the Community Stadium to witness the homecoming.
Dozens more gathered outside, some taking advantage of the vantage point from a hill and others peering through the perimeter fence. It was a night a long time in the making and the Sheffield supporters appeared determined to enjoy it regardless of the outcome.
The home fans got behind their team from minute one, unperturbed by a strong start by Widnes Vikings which threatened to take the match away from the Eagles.
Their reward was a hugely committed performance with flashes of brilliance, enough to give Sheffield a memorable 34-24 win in an entertaining first game back home.
Director of rugby Mark Aston – one of the most loyal men in rugby league – had the last word.
“It’s been a long time coming but we’re here and it’s all for you guys,” he said as he delivered a short message to the fans.
Aston will be hoping the club can generate long-overdue momentum on the back of a special night in the Steel City.
After the players were greeted by pyrotechnics and a new mascot by the name of Errol the Eagle, 1998 Challenge Cup-winning captain Paul Broadbent delivered the match ball in a nod to the club’s past.
In the present, Aston – a veteran of more than 35 years’ service in playing and coaching roles – is in the process of rebuilding Sheffield.
It was an inauspicious start on Monday night, however, with Widnes racing into a 12-0 lead inside 10 minutes.
With chants of “We’re Sheffield Eagles, we’re homeless no more” ringing around the stadium, the Vikings opened the scoring through Lloyd Roby. When Sam Wilde coasted over on the left edge after Izaac Farrell kicked the restart out on the full, the sense of occasion appeared to be weighing heavy on the shoulders of the Eagles players.
But their experienced heads took control to settle the home side’s nerves. Ben Jones-Bishop will be remembered as Sheffield’s first tryscorer at their new home, adding the finishing touches out wide after taking a nice cut-out pass from Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e.
The Eagles did not have to wait long for try number two, Jason Bass scoring from a scrum play to the delight of the club’s long-suffering supporters. Aston’s side received a standing ovation after Farrell’s penalty nudged them ahead for the first time and the players returned the applause.
Sheffield turned on the style as dusk fell, taking the game away from the Vikings in ruthless fashion. Kris Welham’s acrobatic finish gave the Eagles some breathing space before Bass made it a double from another clinical scrum play.
Mikey Wood got in on the act on the back of a break by Joel Farrell and the best was yet to come, brother Izaac dazzling Roby with a spellbinding step.
There was no danger of Widnes spoiling the party, which was in full swing long before Danny Craven and Ryan Ince scored late consolation tries for the visitors.