Mark Aston believes Sheffield have a lot to offer when it comes to Super League, as the Eagles eagerly await the next steps in the licensing process.
Widnes have already been chosen for Super League in 2012, while Halifax are waiting to see if it’s second time lucky when they go up against the existing Super League sides in July, but the remaining Championship clubs will then be waiting to hear what they need to do to earn the right to apply for the next round, which will presumably run from 2015-2017.
Aston’s name is synonymous with Sheffield’s recent history – he won the Lance Todd Trophy for man of the match in their historic Challenge Cup win over Wigan in 1998, was the driving force in the fight to save the Eagles after their merger with Huddersfield in 1999, and has since been the figurehead of the club as it has steadily grown on and off the pitch.
He took some time out to tell us where the Eagles are at with their Super League dream.
“We are still a way away. We were going to do a dry run this year and we haven’t, the two criteria that we fall down on is the fan base and the two million pound. If we get the fans we’ll get money.
“We’re taking it one step at a time, by moving to Bramall Lane, we’ve got the facility, we’ve got the infrastructure underneath with the scholarship, the academy, the reserves, everything in place now, now we need to make that a little bit better. We need to get more bums on seats, we get another thousand we’ll be ready for Super League, by the next time it comes round we need to be ready to apply.
“Sheffield is a sports lively city. What I do know is when we were in Super League a few years ago we were getting 4/5/6 thousand and there’s clubs not getting that now. We potentially can deliver a fan base as probably as high as one or two others that are in there now.
“We played Wigan in the Challenge Cup last year and there were four thousand people there, they weren’t all from Wigan and there were people there saying bring the Super League back to Sheffield because it’s another big city and it’s important.”
To satisfy the on-field criteria, Sheffield will need to win the Northern Rail Cup or appear in a Championship Grand Final, unless the RFL decide to change the system implemented for the 2012 applications.
Aston added: “Whether I believe it’s right or wrong to tick a box on winning something because at the end of the day you’ve got more money you can win things, you can buy success, how long does that last? I think it’s about laying foundations down to sustain in the Super League.
“But if we’ve got to tick the box, we’ve got to tick the box. So our focus is on right here and now, we’re in it to win it, like every other competition.
“It’s about ticking boxes and that’s what rugby league do, if that’s what we’ve got to do, then we’ll aim to do that, whether it’s this year, next year or when the next franchise comes around – we’ll do it.”
Promotion and relegation was scrapped after the 2007 season in favour of the licensing system. Castleford were the final team to earn automatic promotion, by winning the Grand Final against Widnes, while Salford were the last team to suffer the agony of relegation.
Aston said: “It’s only my opinion have they got it right with the franchise system way? Stopping clubs going up and coming back down, yes. Were they going up and coming back down and then struggling financially – not necessarily, but is that because they were getting a parachute payment? You can’t spend money you haven’t got its a principal of business and a few clubs are guilty of that.
“Do I think it’s worked? Yes it has worked. Do I think it stands against promotion/relegation system, the issue is there is that teams will invest heavily to try and win it – then what happens? It’s about sustainability for me and if that is a franchise system that gives you sustainability then that probably is the best way forward.”