Sheffield Eagles return to Challenge Cup action after a year of inactivity

Three hundred and 70 days have passed between games for Sheffield Eagles - but head coach Mark Aston thinks it should have been at least another 30 more.

Sheffield Eagles head coach Mark Aston (Picture: Steve Ellis)

Eagles last took the field in a Challenge Cup tie with Workington at the Keepmoat Stadium on March 14, 2020, before the sport shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Friday night’s game back in their temporary home of Doncaster against York City Knights again in the Challenge Cup, is their first for 12 months.

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But with only six weeks of pre-season instead of the customary 12 weeks they usually spend preparing, Aston is worried for the health of his players.

Sheffield Eagles in action against Doncaster last January (Picture: Marie Caley)

“Six weeks leading up to the first game is not enough,” said Aston, an Eagles servant for nearly three decades.

“I’ve said that publicly and I’ll say it all along: who is going to be held responsible for the potential of mass injuries because when you haven’t played a sport for 12 months and you come back into it you can only simulate contact and other things, but the movements that happen in a game are very difficult to simulate.

“So my massive concern is the risk of injury and serious injury at that.

“Do I think it’s right starting at the end of March? One hundred per cent no. I think we should have started later and had a shorter season, but hey, what do I know?

“It should have started beginning of May or something like that.”

The stop-start nature of lockdown means part-timers like Sheffield have rarely seen their players, although they were able to furlough them which helped with cashflow.

When they have, they made sure the players were put through serious physical tests and given programmes to work on to ensure they kept on top of their conditioning.

“I’ve said it at the coaches meeting, we put a proposal to the league that didn’t get aired,” continued Aston.

“If we’d have knocked it back to the start of May there’d have been less chance of injury and more chance of fewer games behind closed doors, which would help clubs as well.

“We proposed it but hey-ho, we’ve just got to get on with it and do what we can to be ready.

“Hopefully, fingers crossed, we don’t get any serious injuries. If we do, who’s going to be held responsible?”

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