26th August 2019, 06:55
Eagles claim 1895 Cup at Wembley
Sheffield Eagles made history on Saturday by becoming the first ever winners of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup, defeating Widnes Vikings 36-18 at Wembley Stadium.
With victory going the way of Sheffield, Mark Aston completed the full circle of winning at Wembley as an Eagles player and now has a coach.
But they had to do it the hard way. 12-0 down then 18-12 down at the break, other teams may have crumbled under the pressure. Not this Eagles outfit.
An inspired performance from Aaron Brown saw him complete a hat-trick while Corey Makelim scored a peach of a try, following exceptional work by Josh Guzdek.
Aston was forced into changes from their last league game, as Menzie Yere was cup-tied and Jacob Ogden picked up a season-ending injury against Barrow.
Brown was selected in the centres but operated mainly out of dummy-half, with Guzdek playing in the centre for the first time in his career.
A bold move by Aston, but one that ultimately paid off.
The match was just five minutes old when there was a lengthy stoppage as Widnes hooker Jordan Johnstone was stretchered off the pitch after a nasty knock to the head while defending.
Losing one of their key players didn’t leave the Vikings downbeat, it rejuvenated them more than anything as they scored the opening two tries of the game.
Patrick Ah Van slashed his way through the Eagles defence and his offload to Harrison Hansen was smooth, the latter going over to break the deadlock. Jack Owens converted, as he did on 16 minutes as Widnes went back-to-back.
An offload on halfway gave Widnes the freedom of the park and they played a two-on-one perfectly as Chris Dean crossed.
At 12-0 down in the early stages, the Eagles needed to fight back and they got into the contest soon after.
Brown took the ball up from dummy-half on the last and dived over. Pat Walker was on hand to convert.
Just like the Vikings did earlier in the half, Sheffield scored once again - just a few minutes after getting on the scoresheet.
Widnes were on the attack but Anthony Thackeray snatched possession away and raced clear to touch down under the sticks.
Walker levelled the game up at 12-apiece.
The Eagles had fire in their bellies now and almost took the lead when Oliver Davies burst through the defence and offloaded to Guzdek, but the pass was deemed forward.
That missed opportunity did come back to bite Aston’s men, who went into the sheds six points down thanks to Tom Gilmore’s converted try.
Whatever Aston said to his troops at the break had the desired effect almost immediately. Walker’s high kick put Widnes winger Jayden Hatton under intense pressure and something he caved into by hitting the deck, the ball bounced kindly for Joel Farrell to do the honours.
Walker, however, sliced his conversion attempt wide.
The Eagles were on a roll and they finally went into the lead as Brown completed his brace.
Blake Broadbent got an offload away to Ben Blackmore who exchanged passes with Thackeray before flinging a pass out of the back door; Widnes looked to have the ball back but they fumbled and Guzdek picked up the pieces before playing the ex-Dewsbury man over. Walker converted.
Thackeray had the bit between his teeth and won a penalty for obstruction as he couldn’t get on the end of a chip-and-chase due to a Widnes blocker. Walker opted to take the two points but couldn’t hit the target.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Eagles scored the try of the game through Makelim. Guzdek managed to get an arm away to offload and the USA international rounded Owens to score. Walker added the goal for a 28-18 lead with 25 minutes remaining.
Widnes piled on the pressure with some solid defence, keeping the Eagles camped down their own end but when the tables turned and the Steel City side had to show grit and determination – they had it in abundance.
In the final quarter, Walker put a massive shot on a Viking around the ruck and subsequently won a penalty. He kicked for goal again but couldn’t get it between the sticks.
The Vikings came close to opening their second half account but a mammoth effort from Brad Knowles denied livewire half Danny Craven.
Ben Hellewell stepped up to the plate against opposite number Anthony Gelling, forcing the ‘Man of the People’ into a few mistakes which gave him the nickname the ‘Man of the Eagles’ for one afternoon at least.
Widnes youngster Hatton fumbled the ball deep in his own half despite initially taking a Walker kick, the Eagles responded quickly to the opportunity and Brown was there to score his third of the game.
Walker goaled, as he did on the hooter as Sheffield won a penalty late on.
The Eagles needed a big second half performance to get them over the line and it’s fair to say they came up with that and more.
With the victory, Sheffield maintain their 100% record at Wembley Stadium following on from their historic 1998 Challenge Cup win over Wigan Warriors.
By Dan Fowler, photo by Alex Coleman