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#EaglesRetro - Aston reflects on back-to-back Grand Final wins

05/04/2020

After the first episode of #EaglesRetro yesterday, Dan Fowler spoke to Eagles chief Mark Aston about the back-to-back Grand Final winning squad.

DF: 2013 was a superb season as you know Mark, completing the back-to-back. How great a time was that for the club and yourself as a coach?

MA: The years leading up to it were special as well. We got to the Grand Final in 2011 and they always say you have to lose one to win one, and that’s what we did.

We were beaten by Featherstone and my close friend Daryl (Powell, Rovers coach) but the year after, we got back and beat them which was pretty special.

2013, to become the first team to become back-to-back Grand Final winners was also special.

We had a real strong squad of players. There was quality all over the field. We had Misi Taulapapa, Quentin Laulu-Togagae, Mitch Stringer, real characters.

From 1-17 we had quality and it was easy to coach. They coached themselves.

The likes of Dom Brambani, James Davey and Patch Walker - those three and the rest didn’t need coaching, they were easy.

The squad’s attitude to be the best they can be was special. We’re in sport to make memories and we have the memories of those years.

2013 was different to 2012 as we had to do it the hard way. We got beat by Halifax in the first week, had to play Dewsbury then go to Halifax to get to the Grand Final. It showed the steel we had in the squad and they were a pleasure to coach.

DF: Coming back from 12-0 down in the final, were there any doubts at the break and during the second half that we could come back?

MA: We were a little disappointed with ourselves in the first half. We had done the hard work to get there and it seems like we thought we’d just go on to win it.

In a final, there are two teams scrapping for absolutely everything and someone’s going to lose and someone’s going to win. That’s the nature of the beast and Batley were up for it, as they were always going to be.

They played really well, but we just needed to hold our nerve as we knew the quality we had and that we could score from nothing.

Luckily we did hold our nerve and got the win. Was it vintage? No, but it’s not always going to be. You’ve got to be disciplined and we probably only played for 30-minutes but that was enough.

DF: You say it wasn’t vintage, but we did have QLT scoring another sensational Grand Final try - backing up his effort from 2012. What were your thoughts when he broke through the line, did you ever think he was going to be stopped?

MA: The one thing we knew when we signed Q is that he would score tries. He sniffs anything out but he had the footwork, the pace, and we were lucky to pick up someone like him. He came over here and set the competition alight.

We did really well with the overseas players at the time. Misi is one of the greatest people I’ve ever coached and Menzie is still going around! Those three guys were a massive part of the squad, not just on the field but away from it too.

They were characters and there isn’t enough of them in the game now. When you needed something out of one of them, Q would be there to give you that and win you a game at any time in the 80 minutes.

DF: I think it’s only right we have a chat about Menzie! A try in the Grand Final, the territory set up by him forcing a knock-on. Those are the sort of plays you need to turn the tide aren’t they?

MA: Whether it’s in defence or attack, Menzie will be there. When he was in his prime, you wouldn’t find many wanting to attack down his side - they’d more likely run away!

He was immense, the Jukebox by name and the big hits were his nature. That tag certainly stuck with him from the 2008 World Cup.

DF: Moving on to the halves, Dom’s 40/20 and Patch’s chip to Scott Turner for the try in the corner. How important were the playmakers in our comeback?

MA: Smart players! It doesn’t surprise you with Dom Brambani. The ultimate professional, he practiced his kicking before and after training. He’d do over and above what was asked of him. It doesn’t and shouldn’t surprise when he comes up with a play like that.

As for Cool Hand Luke himself, Patch was still doing it in the 1895 Cup Final last year! That’s just quality. They work hard on their individual skills and when they do stuff like that, it gives you a lot of satisfaction knowing all the hard work they put in is justified by setting up tries that win you games.

DF: One of the key moments in the game was the ankle tap from Mitch Stringer on Ben Black. Mitch was named Championship Player of the Year in 2013 and efforts like that show why?

MA: Mitch was special for us wasn’t he? He had a lot of good years and he could have been a Super League player for many years.

I always believed in him, ever since I brought him in as a little chunky guy playing in Rotherham. He always had potential, he just needed to get his head around it and train a little harder.

Once he did that, he went on to Super League - wasn’t settled in London, didn’t quite enjoy it at Salford - then he gave us his best years.

That ankle tap in the Grand Final certainly helped us secure victory. He was a special player, his heart was Red and Gold and he wanted to play for his local club. He was one of the best front-rowers in the competition, there’s no doubt about that.

DF: Just finally Tubbs, we know Michael Knowles got the Man of the Match in the 2012 Grand Final but his back-row teammates may have gone under the radar of the neutral viewer during these years. The likes of Peter Green, Alex Szostak, Joe Hirst, Duane Straugheir and Matt Garside are certainly held in high esteem by the club?

MA: You need those types of players in any squad. They are the workers, their coaches and fellow players really respect and appreciate what they do. They don’t come up with the flash plays, they clean everything up.

They don’t get many wraps, they don’t need it because they can look into the eyes of their teammates and coaches and they will know what they mean.

You have got to build your team on different elements and qualities, you need hard workers and honesty - these lads had it and were champions.

We were blessed with players who wanted to play for Sheffield Eagles and be the best they could be. In a team sport, you have a little piece to play to bring the jigsaw together. In these years, 2011, 2012, 2013 and into 2015, we had a very special bunch who epitomised what Sheffield Eagles stands for.

When you look towards the beginning of the club when Gary (Hetherington) did what he did; your Paul Broadbent’s, Dale Laughton’s, Daryl Powell’s, myself, Rocky Turner’s, they all came to the club and had something to give.

We were close and that’s what was and still is great about the sport and the Eagles, we’re a close-knit group that nobody expected too much from but we challenged ourselves to be the best we could be.