For many years the only place to watch rugby league in Sheffield was either on the television or in a local park. In 1984 the team put together by Gary Hetherington took their place in the league beating Rochdale 29:10 in their first match at Owlerton Stadium. Hetherington was both the manager and a player making 24 appearances that season. The team was a mixture of young talent from the amateur game and seasoned professionals.
The following season saw the debut of Mark Aston without whom today’s Eagles may not be here. He has been a tremendous servant of the club and deserves the utmost respect for his time in the game. The Eagles improved their league placing and the seeds were beginning to grow. The following season they succeeded in making the play-offs but were beaten 29:24 away at Whitehaven in the first round.
The good times arrived in 1988/89 when the Eagles finished third in the table and made it through to the Premiership Final at Old Trafford . They were simply outstanding as they overran Swinton 43:18 after being held 13:8 at the break. Mark Aston was named man of the match for his part in the victory as he landed seven goals and a drop goal to add to his try.
The main objective now was to survive in top flight rugby league. They did it in nail biting fashion finishing third from bottom on points difference. That doesn’t tell the whole story thought. The Eagles managed to escape relegation in spite of being without a home ground after the Owlerton Stadium was declared unsafe. Sheffield played their games at seven different venues : Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Chesterfield FC, Halifax, Wakefield trinity, Doncaster and Barnsley FC. Daryl Powell emerged as a player of great potential alongside Mark Aston. Unfortunately the fairytale rise to fame and fortune did not have a happy ending as the Eagles were relegated at the end of the 1990/91 season, their first season at the Don Valley Stadium.
Sheffield joined the new eight team second division but fears for the club were unfounded. They lifted both the league title and Divisional Premiership when they beat Oldham 34:20. This time the Eagles were up there to stay and they reached the Yorkshire Cup Final in October 1992 only to lose 29:16 to Wakefield Trinity in front of an Elland Road crowd of only 7,918. The club was rewarded with a tour game against Australia that season and in spite of losing 52:22 it showed what progress had been made since those early days in the 80’s.
The Eagles went on to consolidate their position although in spite of this period of stability, it proved difficult to increase the team’s spectator base. They took part in the World Club Championships in 1997 when they beat the Perth Reds 26:22 in their opening game becoming the first British team to win on English soil.
1998 needs no introduction – it was Wembley year.
The Eagles beat Wigan 17:8 to the delight of the rugby league world and especially Mark Aston who received the Lance Todd Trophy. That moment should have meant the resurgence of the Eagles but instead sever financial pressures had begun to grow resulting in the merger with Huddersfield on 1st October 1999 and the newly formed club finished bottom of Super League.
The current Sheffield Eagles team was conceived following the ill-fated merger of the two Super League clubs Huddersfield Giants and the original Eagles in late 1999. This new Eagles were formed only weeks before the start of the NFP season but still managed to win their first game away at Lancashire Lynx 33:20 wearing borrowed kit. Despite zero funding the team finished a creditable 14th place with nine wins and a draw from their 28 league matches.
The following season saw the club expand it’s off the field activities with the establishment of a team of development officers who began working in the local schools and community and an Eagles Academy team was launched as the club continued to promote it’s policy of developing young, local talent. On the field, the club made progress finishing in an improved 11th place. In only their second season, the Eagles efforts were rewarded when they received the coveted “Northern Ford Premiership Club of the Year” award in 2001.
An emphasis on youth is a priority for the new Eagles. The 2002 season was the last for the 19-team Northern Ford Premiership with the league splitting into two divisions - National league One and Two - at the end of the season. Sheffield’s Board of Directors were unwilling to risk the future of the club by spending “big” money on ex-Super League players as many clubs were tempted to do in order to avoid the drop to National League 2. Instead Mark Aston attempted to secure one of the vital top nine positions by developing the talents of his young squad. Unfortunately with youth comes inexperience and inconsistency and though the fledgling Eagles gave their all, the team narrowly missed out losing in the qualifying semi-final to an experienced Dewsbury team.
The 2003 season saw a major reorganisation of the semi-professional game with the Eagles starting as one of ten teams in the new National League Two - with London Skolars joining the professional game as the 'new boys' in the division. But it was the Challenge Cup that provided the early season excitement for the Eagles' fans. The side showed its cup pedigree with a last-gasp drop goal win over Keighley Cougars in the fourth round and were rewarded with a tie against Super League Hull FC. The trip to Hull's new KC stadium ended in defeat but the Eagles had the consolation of a big pay cheque for their share of the gate.
Back in the League the side's blend of experience and young developing players produced results and the Eagles were always in the top five. A strong and consistent set of results in the final games of the season saw the side take the league leaders' trophy - confirmation of the progress that had been made. But heartbreak was to follow in the promotion play-offs when the Eagles - with skipper and player of the season Jon Bruce injured – lost out to Keighley and Batley. The season also saw Mark Aston play his last competitive game for the Eagles after 384 appearances and scoring 2,140 points - a club record.
Aston was able to retain most of his squad for the 2004 campaign. The signing of young Barnsley-born prop Mitchell Stringer by Super League side London Broncos showed testimony to the way the club is developing talent. The coaching team and the players were determined to go one better this year and achieve promotion and thanks to a change in the rules the injustice of the league leaders having to go into the play-offs has ended and top place - the club's target - meant automatic promotion. Sadly it was not to be, and due to a mid-season injury crisis The Eagles lost valuable points in the table, eventually finishing the season in third place and dropping out of the play-offs in the first round to a rampant Hunslet Hawks.
During the short off-season, Aston lost five of his top players - Andy Raleigh to Hull KR, Jordan James to Castleford Tigers, Andy Poynter to Ipswich Jets (Australia) and Richard Goddard and Jon Bruce to retirement from the professional game. Despite these setbacks, The Eagles recruited a new breed of talented players, including former Eagles Academy duo Chris Molyneux and Andy Rice. Blending youth with experience in the shape of Gavin Brown and Lynton Stott. However 2005 will be considered as a poor year, with The Eagles slumping to 7th in the league.
2006 promised to be a year of achievement.
Mark Aston made a sideways step to make way for Gary Wilkinson as Head Coach. Wilkinson brought with him a wealth of National League 1 talent, including Paul Fletcher, Martin Ostler, Johnny Woodcock, Paul Pickering and Craig Poucher. Coupled with the full time signing of 2005 loanees, James Ford and Jon Presley and the addition of Australian stand-off Brendon Lindsay, Eagles fans had plenty to cheer about as after a shakey start, The Eagles put together an unbeaten run of 13 games which saw them finish second in the league and win the National League 2 play off final at a sold out Haliwell Jones Stadium and clinch promotion to National League 1.
With Aston back at the helm in 2007, the Eagles main aim was to remain in National League 1, which they achieved comfortably, finishing in sixth place - the first team to remain the NL1 AND reach the play-offs. A clash with Super League side Hull FC in the Challenge Cup and two home games broadcast live on Sky Sports were highlights for The Eagles who soared beyond all expectations. Mark Aston's service to the club as coach was rewarded with the prestigious National League 1 Coach Of The Year award. 2008 was another year of consolidation in National League One, with the bulk of the 2007 squad retained the Eagles narrowly missed out on the play-offs, but cemented themselves as a first division club.
Following the new licensing structure in Super League, the National Leagues were rebranded to The Championships and as part of the structure, increased central funding from the Rugby Football League allowed clubs to invest in their infrastructure to build and strengthen for the future. A raft of exciting signings, including internationals from Papua New Guinea (Trevor Exton, Menzie Yere), Samoa (Tangi Ropati) and the Eagles biggest signing in ten years, Fiji and NRL star Aaron Groom will ensure that Eagles fans continue to have something to cheer about in 2009.
The 2009 season, with Aston still in charge, started unevenly with the incoming Internationals delayed by visa problems. However, the Eagles rallied to progress to the 5th round of the Challenge Cup and produced consistent performances, gaining at least a losing bonus point from all their League games. Despite a number of long-term injuries, the team achieved their best position, 3rd, since the re-launch, and again qualified for the play-offs.
The 2010 season saw a change of approach with two pre-season games used to tune-up the squad prior to the Rail Cup, in which they were unbeaten in the pool games. The move to their new home, Bramall Lane, saw an encouraging 2871 spectators at the first match.In the 2nd round of the Challenge Cup the Eagles were drawn against Wigan, despite losing, they scored an impressive 34 points against the Super League outfit which was witnessed by almost 3000. Unfortunately long term injuries to Jonny Woodcock, Aaron Groom and Jack Howieson restricted their involvement, but newcomer Misi Taulapapa, from Samoa, rose to the challenge, taking over impressively at full-back and captain. A victory by one point, in the last League game of the season, against Leigh, sealed a place in the play-offs for the 2nd successive season. After victories on the road at Leigh and Barrow the Eagles stumbled at the penultimate hurdle, when they lost at Halifax, who had finished second in the League. The Eagles topped the Co-operative Championship Frontline Fair Play Index as the best behaved team in the competition.
The Eagles made great strides during 2011. By finishing 4th in the Championship the play-off series was the next target. Against the odds, Eagles became the first team outside the top three to reach the Grand Final, which did turn out to be a game too far.In the Challenge Cup the largest Eagles score with no reply was made against very plucky opponents, Leeds Metropolitan University. The next round saw Sheffield score 26 points against a very efficient St Helens, who finished 3rd in Super League and were beaten finalists in the Grand Final this year. Menzie Yere and Quentin Laula-Togagae were the top try scorers with 22 and 20 respectively, Mitch Stringer was The Player of The Year, with Joe Hirst being voted Players Player of The Year. Danny Mills became the 34th member of the illustrious group who have worn a first team shirt 100 times. Mitch Stringer, Andrew Henderson and Peter Green all played every game (30). The U18s Academy had a tough year against Super league opposition but certainly grew in confidence. The Scholarship U16s won one game against Super League side Harlequins and drew with Huddersfield in their season and the Under 15s put in sterling performances again against Super League sides. The Reserve squad had a disappointing season winning only 2 of their games, although some games were close encounters. York City Knights, Toulouse Olympique XIII, Batley Bulldogs, Dewsbury Rams, Hunslet Hawks all had the "double" completed against them, with Toulouse being a side who had never beaten Sheffield in their short history in the National Leagues.
2012 saw Sheffield Eagles make further progress within their short history with the most successful season on and off the field since the reformation in 1999. The year began with a successful defence of the South Yorkshire Autism Cup against local rivals and neighbours, Doncaster RLFC. A second Grand Final appearance, and a winning one to boot, after finishing in 4th place in the league and having to encounter Halifax and Leigh, again in the play-offs. The Grand Final was contested again with the old foe of Featherstone Rovers. The most successful run in the Northern Rail Cup, so far, with an appearance in the semi-final, just losing out to cup winners Halifax by 2 points.[22 - 24]. A successful foray into France in the Anglo-French Challenge European against French champions Carcasonne ASC XIII. Although no individuals were selected for recognition in the rugby community, one player was selected for the dream team. Quentin Laulau-Togagae was recognised as the full back of the season, and QLT was also the player who broke a long standing record (made in 1991 by Iva Ropati) and scored an outstanding 35 tries in the season. He was made The Rugby League World Magazine Championship Player of the Year. Another publication made Mark Aston the Championship Manager of the Year. Mark Aston given Rugby League Writers Merit Award for Services to the Sport. “Tubbs” was also to became "Doctor Mark Aston", when he was awarded an honary doctorate by Sheffield Hallam University for his services to sport. Six players made the Scottish and Irish International Squads. [Jack Howieson, Mitchell Stringer, Andrew Henderson, Alex Szostak, Pat Smith and Tim Bergin]. The year was celebrated by Sheffield City Council hosting a Civic Reception in honour of the Eagles winning the Grand Final. Inductees to The Sheffield Eagles Hall of Fame were Keith Senior, Mick Cook, Waisale Sovatabua, Gavin Brown
2013 turned out to be the most successful season in the Eagles 30 seasons of rugby league with a series of team and player achievements that will take some beating. The appearance in the Final of what turned out to be the final Northern Rail Cup which followed being the only Championship side to reach the Quarter Finals of the Tetleys Challenge Cup, when Eagles were only just beaten by London Broncos. The season culminated on finishing second in the Championship and then reaching the third successive Grand Final and being the first team to win back to back finals. These were achieved by having Mitchell Stringer winning The Iron Man Competition and then following it up with being selected as The Kingstone Press Championship Player of The Year, was also selected as a member of the Kingstone Press Championship Team of The Year and The Sheffield Eagles Player of The Year. Menzie Yere smashed Quentin Laula-Togagae try scoring record (35) by crossing the whitewash 46 times and then breaking the career try scoring record set by Daryl Powell in 1984-1995, by scoring 118 tries in less than half of the number of games it took Daryl. Menzie also equalled Daryl's achievement of 5 tries in a match, which Daryl set in 1989. Menzie was also selected as a member of the Kingstone Press Championship Team of The Year. Quentin Laula-Togagae was again selected for the Kingstone Press Championship Team of The Year and equalled his record of 35 tries scored in a season. Dominic Brambani joined in with a few records of his own being voted Man of The Match in The Grand Final, broke Mark Aston's goal kicking record from 1988/89 with 169 goals(including 1 drop goal), broke Mark Aston's season points scoring record (from the same year of 307) to set a new figure of 361 points, broke the record for the number of successful kicks in a match, (set by Gavin Brown in 2003 against London Skolars), to set a new record of 14, against Leigh East, and then set about finishing the season with 115 consecutive Eagles appearances. In terms of team performances a record number of tries were scored in one match (19) and a record number of hat-tricks in a season (8 -shared equally between Yere and QLT). Corey Hanson, Mitch Stringer, Alex Szostak and Andrew Henderson are selected for the World Cup and Jack Howieson retiired after 275 games spanning 13 continuous years with the Eagles. Misi Taulapapa, Dominic Brambani, Joe Hirst, Andrew Henderson and Peter Green all joined the illustrious 100 Club, which now numbers 42. Mitch Stringer made his 250th appearance in an Eagles shirt. Jack Howieson and Mark Gamson were elected to the Sheffield Eagles Hall of Fame. The final nail was put into the Eagles home and Sheffield City Council decided to end the Eagles 2013 season by pulling down the home they had had since September 1990, where they had played 338 1st team matches, winning 60% of them.