1st December 2019, 12:18
LONG READ: Aston's Assessment
After a busy off-season, Dan Fowler caught up with Eagles chief Mark Aston to get his thoughts on the new signings that have been brought to South Yorkshire for 2020.
DF: We have signed Robbie Ward from Dewsbury Rams on a two-year deal. By his own admission, he has been around the block a bit after his time in Australia and here in the UK - did his experience draw you to him?
MA: I have watched his career develop and stagnate as well. At 17/18-years-old, he was flying with Leeds Rhinos and playing Super League rugby. Then sometimes what happens with young kids, they’re flicked out and are lost in the world of rugby league.
He went to Australia to try and make it work, he loved it but came back - Featherstone, Dewsbury - he hasn’t had loads of clubs but we have seen so many of them that are lost. I sat down with him, he’s tough and uncompromising - he puts himself out there and he’s quick and dominant out of dummy-half. He has massive amounts of potential.
He has his best years in front of him, we need to get him back to that level he set himself. That’s easy for me as he just has to refocus himself, dust himself down and refocus.
We also need to give him confidence and that’s what coaches do, give these players the confidence to play at their maximum.
We get a lot of satisfaction out of that. Robbie is a great kid and there’s no doubt about that, there’s a lot of good company (in the squad) now.
DF: Moving on to the more experienced signings, Scott Wheeldon and Rob Worrincy have both returned to the club. We’ll start with Scott first, towards the end of his first stint he really did shine through in a squad that had a rough couple of years?
MA: He is a champion bloke and that’s what they’re looking for. Yes we saw the best of Scott Wheeldon towards the end with us last time, that’s the transition from Super League to a part-time environment. It’s tough and he struggled with that to start with.
He found his feet and he didn’t want to leave to go to Featherstone. At the end of the day we were in a little bit of a pickle and we couldn’t guarantee this, that and the other. I’ve always kept in contact with him as I respect him due to the way he goes around his business.
I thought we needed him to help the likes of Matty James, as we lost him last year and we needed someone to fill that gap as a leader. Scott Wheeldon can come in and do that so if Matty’s not there, Scott’s there and vice versa.
The experience, the quality, of the bloke is something you need in the team and he will roll his sleeves up. He wanted to come back and he has got to mentor the junior players, your Blake Broadbents, Lewis Taylors and Rory Dixons. It was an easy fit for us.
DF: From a prop to a winger, the first thing I said to Rob (Worrincy) is that it seems like you can’t stay away! It’s a record for the amount of times he has signed for the Eagles and like with Scott, we know what we are getting?
MA: When I signed Rob out of Castleford when they released him out of Super League, his dreams and aspirations were to play Super League. He did get there, he signed for Hull but don’t think he ever played but he signed a Super League deal.
He came back to us, went away, came back to us, went away, and now we’re here again. We have lost Ben Blackmore but I still rate Rob Worrincy as one of the best wingers in this competition. He has matured, we have brought in two young centres and there’s nobody I’d want more on the outside of them than Rob.
He talks well, he loves the club because we gave him the chance to progress so we’ve always had that relationship. We have some great memories, he’s done some amazing things and for anyone who thinks I’m cracking up by bringing him back - you will see and you will eat your words, I can guarantee you of that.
He is dynamite with yardage, just like Blackmore, but he is immaculate. He is in such good shape and can play until he was 40 with the way he looks after himself. He has his career outside of the game, he’s a policeman and credit to him for that. It’s the fourth time I have signed him and he has always become a fan favourite and I’m sure he will do that again.
He jumped at the chance when we spoke about him coming back and he understands he’s got a mentorship role with Connor Bower and Zack McComb. He will deliver that, give them that experience which money can’t buy.
DF: You’ve mentioned them there, two signings in the centres from League 1 with Connor Bower and Zack McComb joining from Doncaster and Oldham. It’s like full circle with Rob really, who didn’t get chances elsewhere and proved himself with us. McComb didn’t get much of a chance at Batley, Bower didn’t get much of a chance at Hull - you’re giving them that same chance here?
MA: McComb has come through an Huddersfield environment, Bower came out of the Hull environment to get his career outside of rugby sorted out so credit to him. He has found a way to get recognised at Doncaster as one of the better centres in League 1. He is a good kid, wants to be the best he can be and the same goes for Zack. He has had a torrid time, came out of Batley, went back to Siddal then to Oldham.
He has now made his international debut for Ireland which shows what people are recognising now. When I saw him play, I thought he has got something. He has played internationally for the Students. Both of them are good, honest kids. We have done with Ryan Millar who has progressed, your Worrincys, they’re hungry and you need that.
Both are professionals and we like working with them. If these two guys can’t pick the brains of one of the best England centres in Keith Senior, buy into what he can offer them then they must be crazy. Both have aspirations to play at the highest level, which is something I’m keen on - whether they make it or play for the Eagles for however many years.
With these young players, added with the experience we have already, there’s a nice balance. It will be a challenge as you have got to look at what Featherstone are doing, what Leigh are doing, London and Toulouse are full-time, there’s plenty of challenges but it’s all about the little improvements year after year.
DF: We have brought in Izaac Farrell, joining his brother Joel here at the Eagles. What have you seen in him to offer a deal, and he sure has big boots to fill doesn’t he?
MA: At the end of the day, with Izaac, it’s another kid who was lost to the rugby league world. With the association with his Dad and his brother, he needed a hand-up and this is what we do. I have seen Izaac developing as a young man and player, he has played a few games this year at Super League level. He has self-doubt and after those Super League games, that doubt crept in and they let him go elsewhere.
He has moved from here to there and everywhere, and I speak about this a lot - if you don’t get the place right where you’re sending your young players to, they’re not going forward, they’re going backwards at a rapid date. We have had meetings and coffees for hours and hours on end, to make sure we can do this. There will be times where we fall out, where he’ll hate me for what I’m going to do as I will push him to the limit.
I have got to unlock that magic in him and he does have it. He has floated and drifted, he now has to refocus. He knows he has a challenge, knows it’ll be tough to get in the team but he can be the jewel in the crown at the end of this season. What we have to think about is that if he develops and progresses how we want him to, he is 21-years-old.
We have all been there and people have to believe in him as if you don’t get that, you start doubting yourself and it’s a helter-skelter to the bottom. The only way Izaac can go now is up. He is honest, he’s his Dad’s lad, he’s not a talker and we have to bring that out of him.
We will keep on top of him but show him the belief, if I can find a gem in him and does what Joel has done this year then we’ll have a pretty good player on our hands. I’m not saying it’ll always work, but we’ll do our best to get him to achieve what we know he is capable of achieving.
You can find Aston’s reaction to the signing of Doncaster forward Frankie Mariano here.
By Dan Fowler, photo by Alex Coleman