Sheffield Eagles have often resembled the precious birds from which they draw their name in recent seasons: their existence threatened, habitat destroyed and a precarious future at best.
But, like the endangered avians of their name, a small band of committed supporters and workers helps to keep them alive, as they continue to exist, despite circumstances seeminly permanently conspiring against them.
Eagles coach Mark Aston, an energetic and optimistic character, is certainly as bullish as ever about their prospects for the coming campaign.
He also acknowledges, however, that 2017 will bring fresh challenges to what is a vastly different squad, with the Eagles temporarily housed at Wakefield’s Belle Vue stadium for the season ahead.
“Obviously, the pitch is in great condition, and it’s a famous old stadium,” he told Love Rugby League.
“It’s not ideal that we’re out of Sheffield, but we’re indebted to Wakefield for opening up the ground to us, and allowing us to play there.
“We’re looking forward to it. The players are aware of it now, the fans are aware of it now.
“We’ve just got to get on with the job.”
Aston is clearly annoyed by the way in which the Steel City’s two football teams, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United, have refused to allow the Eagles to share their grounds for any significant amount of time.
“Of course it does,” he asserted, when asked it it rankled that their sporting neighbours were so unaccomodating.
“Because at the end of the day both of the football grounds have got Desso pitches.
“We all know that you can play a high volume of any sport on Desso pitches.
“So it is disappointing, but we dust ourselves down and move on, because that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Former sports minister and Sheffield MP Richard Caborn hinted recently that the Eagles could have their new ground ready to play on by June.
Aston feels that that assessment is a little over-optimistic, however.
“Again, difficult, I would have thought,” he explained.
“There’s going to be a surface there, with a rugby pitch, but are there going to be facilities there which can house professional rugby league at the Championship level? I doubt it.
“It’d be great if it was available, but I’m not holding much hope out.”
Meanwhile, the playing squad at the Eagles has undergone some massive changes, with more players expected to arrive before the season kicks off.
“We’re always looking for players, there’s no doubt about that,” said Aston.
“We’ve got some exciting players that have stayed with us through the tough times.
“I’m sure we’ll be adding more as well. There’s some known faces in there, and some old faces who have been here before.
“The most important thing for anybody this year is that we get the club stabilised, and we look at starting again those processes which will take us to where we want to get to.
“The stability is the key. It’s going to be interesting.
“There’s a large number of new players again, and when you get that, it takes you a little bit of time to get that stability and continuity that we want.
“Continuity will bring consistency, and that’s what we’ve got to look for over the next several years again.”
A major setback last season was the loss of official academy status by the club due to an RFL decision, something which still rankles with Aston.
“Have I come to terms with it? No,” he insisted.
“It was a vast loss for us as a club, and certainly me personally because we’ve had a lot of success.
“If people start looking at the players who are actually playing professional rugby league from the city region, from South Yorkshire, then I reckon there’s between 20 and 30.
“I don’t think we got the recognition we deserved there.
“But what really breaks my heart about all that is that we had to break so many kids’ hearts after having probably our best ever Scholarship season last year.
“We won three out of six, and beat Huddersfield within that three.
“We had a nice group of kids who progressed, and to lose all of them, personally, and to have to tell them and all their parents that the dream is over, is not something that was in my schedule.
“It wasn’t something that I ever envisaged having to do.
“Where are those kids now? They’ll be all over the place. I know for a fact that some of them aren’t playing at all now, because they don’t see the point.”
As ever, Aston remains optimistic and determined that the Eagles will thrive once again.
“We’ve got to get a new facility, which is just around the corner, hopefully,” he added.
“Once we’ve got that, can we build it again? Yes. We’ll run a centre of excellence for rugby, an that will be both codes.
“We’ll have rugby league and rugby union working together to develop players, because I’m sure if we don’t want them in league, I’m sure they will be good enough to play union.”