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#EaglesRetro - Wilkinson on 2006 Playoff Winners


Following the third #EaglesRetro of the year - the 2006 Playoff Final victory over Swinton - Dan Fowler spoke to head coach Gary Wilkinson about an unforgettable time in the club’s history.

DF: 2006 was a superb season for the Eagles as we were promoted to the second tier, three years after heartache against Keighley. How much did you enjoy that year as coach? 

GW: I enjoyed it immensely. I had been at Hull KR prior to that, Hull FC Reserves and progressed to GB Students and I went to Australia with them. Mark Aston rang me up to see if I was interested in coming to the Eagles. 

It proved to be a successful and enjoyable time with a great group of people. 

We had a couple of car-loads coming over from Hull to play and they reflect on that time with great fondness. 

DF: Looking back, how talented was that squad for the division it was in? With the likes of Woodcock, Worrincy, Lindsay, Brown as well as Howieson and Stringer who were the club’s front-row pairing for many years?

GW: It was great to have them as well as a sprinkling of ex-Super League players too. 

Andy Smith was our team captain, we had Andy Hay too. 

Other people who didn’t play in that 2006 Grand Final, likes of Tom Buckenham who travelled from Doncaster. Craig Brown was with us and Paul Fletcher who I brought along from Hull KR but was injured for the final. 

We had some good talented kids who weren’t in that 17 for the final that would have walked into any other side in that division. 

DF: When I have spoken to Tubbs and Eagles players over the past few years, they’ve spoken about the importance of camaraderie in a squad. This side certainly had that? 

GW: Absolutely so. They enjoyed being around each other and there was a lot of ribbing done! We had a lad who came off the bench in that final, Martin Ostler, who was a real jack-the-lad character. 

Everyone went to training with a smile on their face, really enjoyed it and it was good. 

Tubbs organised a lot of stuff off-the-field and it was an enjoyable time. 

We brought another lad in with us from Hull, Dave Cooper, who used to travel with the team and was water-boy for the final. He had an input in there too. 

DF: What were your best memories from that year? Of course the final will stand out but are there any matches/moments that come to mind? 

GW: There was one at home where we played Workington and was expected to wipe the floor with them. 

Unfortunately we came undone so for the wrong reasons that stuck in my mind but we went up to their place and put something like 80 past them. We learnt from our lessons. 

Halfway through the season, we looked at the fixtures and I had set the team some little targets which ended in the 13-match winning run. 

The training was structured in such a way that we peaked at the right time as well. 

I can’t emphasise the joy. Tubbs and the rest of the backroom staff were brilliant to work with. 

Everybody mucked in and they were great times, some cracking matches - we had lost to Celtic Crusaders away after stopping over but got them back in the return game in the playoffs. 

DF: In commentary, they mentioned Waisale Sovatabua who played in the 1998 Challenge Cup Final and in the 2006 Playoff Final. With Waz and Andy Hay too, how important was the experience they brought? 

GW: They were fantastic and exactly what you needed on a match day. They brought great input when it came to getting others to train. 

For example, we used Andy as a wrestling coach because he was very good at that. 

I worked briefly with Andy at Doncaster so knew what he brought to the table. 

Waz was brilliant with the youngsters and contributed to the craic too. Even the kids that weren’t in the match day squads, they contributed in some shape or form. 

I know I keep repeating myself but they were just special times. 

DF: You and the squad will always be held in high regard for what you did for the club. What are your memories of the Eagles fans during that season, and the jubilant scenes at the end of the final? 

GW: The fans were unbelievable and the sad thing was at the time, most players lived out of town so couldn’t celebrate with them as we were straight back in our cars when we got back to Sheffield. 

We did go around Hull a little bit and enjoyed ourselves but it would have been nice for us all to be together. Unfortunately when you’re part time, you don’t get that luxury. 

It is nice to be held in high regard and you make friends for life. 

We keep in touch via Facebook and going back to that 2006 final, one player who stood out for us, and who had been left out during parts of the season, was Johnny Woodcock. He had a superb game in the final, got the Man of the Match and that was a result of hard work and some frank speaking at times.

DF: Just finally Gary, from the 2006 squad there’s James Ford who has become one of the best coaches in the Championship with York. Waz was assistant to Tubbs at the Eagles for a few years. Does it surprise you that some of those squad members have gone on to great things? 

GW: With Fordy, he is carving out a great name and reputation as a coach in the Championship. A lot of the great coaches were school teachers and with his background, he has taken that on with what he’s done at York. It doesn’t surprise me.

Andy Hay is in New Zealand, working within the development of the game there. They have a lot to offer and you can get a good career in coaching if you do the hard yards. 

For example, when I was a coach I always used to go and watch the touring World Club Challenge team train. I spent time with them. 

I met Steve Folkes when he came over with Canterbury and he invited me to sit alongside him during the game but unfortunately it wasn’t possible for me to take that offer. 

I learnt a lot from Steve and it was important to use those contacts for me to improve.