John Kear takes his Batley side to face his former club Sheffield on Thursday, and he is full of praise for opposite number Mark Aston.
Aston was man of the match when Kear led the Eagles to their famous Challenge Cup final victory over Wigan in 1998, and has since helped re-build the club following their failed merger with Huddersfield in 1999.
Now coach and chief executive, Aston led the Eagles to within 80 minutes of the Championship title last season, as they were beaten comprehensively in the Grand Final by Featherstone.
Sheffield are one of a number of clubs expected to challenge for the title this season, and Kear’s Batley are well up there too.
Kear said: “Mark’s absolutely first class.
“Sheffield have been like the phoenix from the ashes, and Mark’s been instrumental in the rebirth and growth of the club.
“He’s taken them to a Grand Final last year, and they’re built on very secure foundations. He’s done absolutely marvelously, and you can tell his team is a Mark Aston team because they exhibit plenty of the same qualities that Mark had as a player.”
The clash, to be televised live on Premier Sports, promises to be an exciting one, with Kear’s Batley side buoyed by a superb victory over Halifax last weekend.
He added: “I’ve been pleased with our last five performances. We played well at York, then against London in the Challenge Cup, and we followed that with decent efforts against Hunslet, Featherstone and Halifax to show we’re there or thereabouts with the bigger teams in this division.
“I’m very pleased with our form, but the challenge now is to make it six good performances on the bounce.”
Kear is expected to welcome back Johnny Walker and Jonny Campbell to his side, knowing that a win would see the Bulldogs go top of the table.