Aston on Keighley, Halifax season opener and competition for places
Mark Aston has been happy with the Eagles’ pre-season schedule although he will be without the suspended Anthony Thackeray for Sunday’s Championship opener against Halifax.
Thackeray serves a one-match suspension for dissent, which may see Corey Makelim and Izaac Farrell retain their half-back berths following last week’s draw to Keighley Cougars.
The Eagles travelled to Keighley without long-term absentees James Glover and Matt James as well as Scott Wheeldon (recovery from operation), Thackeray (knock) and Brad Knowles (final game of suspension).
Both sides had a chance to win the game in the final stages but Menzie Yere’s try was ruled out for a forward pass and, at the other end, Billy Gaylor’s drop goal hit the post.
“The conditions were tough and to lose Thacks and have to play two relatively inexperienced half-backs was always going to be a big ask,” Aston said.
“It’s not necessarily about the result but more the performance, but we came away with a draw and had enough opportunities to win it.
“Our execution let us down but it was a worthwhile exercise - mentally more than anything as we were out warming up but the doctor was running late so kickoff was delayed by half an hour.
“The pitch was horrendous but this is what happens sometimes, and we have to show the mental strength and attitude that we’re looking for.”
Aston is looking forward to welcoming Knowles back into the fold, with the Doncaster and Keighley friendlies wiping out the final two games of the forward’s suspension.
Wheeldon is close to making a return and the Eagles chief initially hoped for the front-rower to make an appearance at Keighley but the time wasn’t right.
“Taggy (Knowles) has trained the house down in pre-season and he’s a nightmare when he’s not playing if I’m honest!” Aston added.
“To get him back on the field will be good for us.
“Scott is training full-on now but will he be right for the weekend?
“It will be close, it’s down to whether we think he’ll give us what we need as it’ll be straight into the melting pot for him without any games.
"We’ll be making that decision on Friday night.”
Praise, from players and coaches alike, has not been in short supply for Rory Dixon this pre-season due to the young prop’s work ethic.
Aston has seen progression from the ex-York forward and the competition Dixon, and other young players, will bring to the squad is something that excites the Eagles Director of Rugby.
“We all saw what happened with Blake Broadbent and Paddy Burns in 2019, and people forget that Rory Dixon played double figures last year too,” he said.
“He has had one of those pre-seasons you die for, he’s been at the front of everything and working hard to get a shot.
"His two performances in pre-season have given him the confidence to say ‘I am ready for this next stage, and people are going to have to work hard to get this shirt off me’.
“Blake, Greg (Burns) and Paddy are standing up too and have been with us for a few years.
“The new lads like Zack (McComb), (Connor) Bower, Frankie (Mariano, Rob (Worrincy), have added to us but we have plenty more work to do as a squad (as the season goes on).
By Dan Fowler, photo by Alex Coleman