After existing in exile since 2013, the Eagles were due to make their grand homecoming on Good Friday, April 15, in a Championship match with London Broncos at the community stadium at the Olympic Legacy Park in Attercliffe.
But, perhaps typically for a club that has suffered setback after setback in its quest to return home, that has now been put back due to a delay in completing the utility works at the ground.
“They’re struggling to get hold of metres, gas and electicity, and all the things they need,” says Aston, ruefully.
Aston and the club are confident the matter will be resolved in time for their new homecoming date of Monday, May 23, when all being well Widnes Vikings and the Premier Sports cameras will be in town for their protracted return. The head coach and the Eagles’ long-suffering support would be forgiven for having a ‘believe it when we see it’ attitude to that calendar notification.
They have been homeless since Don Valley Stadium was dismantled in 2013, and it is only through the dedication of a small number of staff and the unwavering faith from a small band of supporters that they are still here today.
But patience has been tested, which leaves Aston – ever the realist – to ask those supporters to just bare with them a little longer.
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” says Aston, whose team play their first ‘home’ game of the season against Super League side Hull FC tomorrow in the sixth round of the Challenge Cup at Featherstone Rovers’ Post Office Road.
“What’s the point in getting frustrated about it, in getting angry about it? Some of the fans aren’t happy that we’re playing at Featherstone. We’re not either, but the reality is we can’t play in Sheffield yet and we’ve got to do whatever it takes to get a game on.
“It would have been a nice occasion if the ground had have been ready.”
Scarborough Group International was first granted planning permission for the site, a 3,900-capacity stadium with a quarter of that seating, in 2017 with a scheduled opening date of 2020. The pandemic put paid to that, forcing the Eagles to play home games on the road, primarily at Doncaster’s Eco Power Stadium. When they finally get into the Community Stadium, the Eagles have signed a five-year agreement.
This season, the RFL granted them permission to play their opening games away from home, but the delay by a month to the opening means they are still looking for sites to play two home games in April.
A home Challenge Cup draw, a plum one at that against Hull FC, means they had to call in a favour from a rival Championship club.
“Big props to the guys at Featherstone, Martin Vickers and the team, they’ve been great in making this game possible, outstanding of them,” says Aston.
“Hull is a tough gig but one in which there’s absolutely no pressure on us whatsoever, we can go out there, give a good account of ourselves and see what happens.If we play like we’ve been playing we’ll ask them some questions.”
That is one thing Aston can almost guarantee – excitement. Despite playing all seven of their league and cup games away from home this season, including over the last three weekends in Workington, North Wales and Whitehaven, Sheffield have won five, scoring nearly 200 points in the last four of them.
“The weather’s got a little bit better for us,” says Aston, when asked what the secret has been.
“Some of the stuff they’re doing at the moment is top draw and long may it continue.
“When I watch them in training they excite me and we’ve got some experienced players.
“Did we expect to be racking up 44 points at Workington on Sunday? No of course not, but when the sun’s out it’s going to suit us.
“When we move into the OLP, the pitch is 100 metres long and 70 metres wide, that’s great for us because we want to go and play, we want to entertain people and we want to challenge teams to answer the questions we pose.”
They just need to get there.
“If we have to leave Sheffield again I’ll retire,” says Aston, “because if this club has to play outside the city again it will be done.”