Sheffield Eagles’ 1998 Challenge Cup final winners: Where are they now?

Ben Olawumi
Sheffield Eagles badge, Sheffield Eagles celebrate their 1998 Challenge Cup triumph

Sheffield Eagles celebrate their 1998 Challenge Cup triumph

May 2, 1998 saw one of the most famous upsets in the history of rugby league as Sheffield Eagles beat the all-conquering Wigan Warriors under the Wembley arch to lift the Challenge Cup.

The Eagles had been formed only 14 years prior, and were making their first-ever appearance in the competition’s showpiece. 26 years on, they haven’t been involved in a Challenge Cup final since either.

Bookmakers were offering odds of up to 14/1 for a Sheffield win ahead of the final, with Wigan – who would go on to be crowned Super League champions that year – having had a vice-like grip on the Challenge Cup for the majority of the 90’s, soon to win a third straight Premiership/Grand Final.

But it would be the Eagles who enjoyed the greatest day in their history. 10-2 up approaching the break thanks to tries from Nick Pinkneya and Matt Crowther, Mark Aston would slot over a drop goal, with Darren Turner’s second-half effort putting the cherry on top of the cake.

Wigan‘s only try on the day came from Mark Bell with 24 minutes remaining, but that was as good as it got for John Monie’s side, beaten 17-8 in front of a crowd of 60,669. Stuart Cummings was the match referee.

The two clubs have been pitted against one another in the Challenge Cup Sixth Round this year, and ahead of their meeting at Wigan’s DW Stadium tonight (March 22), we take a look at where the 17 Eagles heroes from that 1998 triumph are today…

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Sheffield Eagles’ 1998 Challenge Cup final winners: Where are they now?

Waisale Sovatabua

Waisale Sovatabua
Sheffield Eagles’ Waisale Sovatabua in action during the 1998 Challenge Cup final

The Eagles signed a trio of Fijians following the 1995 World Cup – Joe Dakuitoga, Mala Yasa and utility back Sovatabua, who is somewhat of a cult hero. Starting at full-back in their 1998 triumph, Sovatabua would remain with the club until the end of the 2000 season, playing under the ‘Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants’ tagline following the merger.

Eventually leaving for Wakefield Trinity in 2001, a spell in rugby union with Otley would follow, before the Fijian returned to Sheffield midway through 2005, and the following year featured off the interchange bench in the third tier play-off final triumph over Swinton Lions, that his last career appearance in league.

Having played a few games for union side Sheffield Tigers, and been on the backroom coaching team at the Eagles, 2013 saw Sovatabua – who last year turned 50 – pop up in the head coach role at union outfit Dronfield. From what we can discover via social media, it would appear that he is still around the area today, involved in a charity cricket event held by the club last year.

Nick Pinkney

Pinkney is another who had been involved in the 1995 World Cup, featuring for England and acting as an unused interchange in the final defeat to Australia despite never having played top-level rugby league prior to that.

The winger – who began at the then-known Ryedale-York – broke try-scoring records aplenty for Keighley Cougars before joining Sheffield in 1997, scoring the opening try in the right-hand corner at Wembley just four minutes in having taken Mark Aston’s kick cleanly.

Now 53, Pinkney called time on his career at the end of 2004 after stints with Halifax, Salford and boyhood club Hull KR. He now summarises KR games on BBC Radio Humberside, and is an engineering technician for a private healthcare company across the UK.

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Whetu Taewa

Whetu Taewa
Whetu Taewa in action for Sheffield Eagles

By the time New Zealand international centre Taewa joined the Eagles in 1997, he was approaching the back end of his career having already starred Down Under for both the Warriors and the Cowboys, as we now know them, amongst others. He had also played at representative level for Canterbury’s rugby league side and the Māori representative team.

The stalwart would make just 53 appearances in total for Sheffield, leaving at the end of the 1998 campaign. Hull KR would be his next destination, playing just over 150 games for the Robins in the three years which followed and taking on an assistant coaching role before returning to New Zealand.

Now living in the town of Cromwell he has become a speedway driver! But while he loves life in the fast lane, Taewa is also involved in a driving mentoring scheme which encourages responsible behaviour on the roads.

Keith Senior

Despite not getting in on the action at Wembley, Senior – who had just turned 22 when he stepped out in that final was the Eagles’ top try-scorer in 1998 with 19 to his name come the end of the campaign. The centre had been signed by Sheffield from community union side Huddersfield YMCA, going on to become an England & Great Britain international.

With 140 appearances to his name, he departed for Leeds Rhinos on the final day of the 1999 Super League season, debuting that same day. 12 years later when his playing days came to an end – after a move to Crusaders collapsed – he would be a four-time Super League champion with five Dream Team inclusions and a whole host of other accolades to his name.

Having worked for the Rhinos’ foundation and hosted RugbyAM, he’s now back with the Eagles as part of their backroom team, combining that role with one as the Head of Wellbeing Programmes for Rugby League Cares. 47-year-old Senior has been worked for the charity for just over six years now.

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Matt Crowther

Matt Crowther
Left: 1998 – Matt Crowther scores a try for Sheffield Eagles in the Challenge Cup final; Right: 2024 – Wakefield Trinity physiotherapist Matt Crowther treats Toby Boothroyd

Like Senior, winger Crowther – who scored their second try in the final – began his professional career with the Eagles, debuting in December 1994 against Leigh.

The eight-time Scotland international, who played in the 2000 World Cup, was at the club until 2001 when – having played briefly under the Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants name, he departed for Hull FC. Crowther would be forced to retire at 29 after breaking his leg in a game against hometown club Castleford Tigers, who he would go on to have a long-standing association with.

Following his retirement, the ex-flier would become a physiotherapist, working in the NHS before joining Featherstone Rovers and eventually Cas in 2014. Crowther spent almost a decade at the Jungle before departing in the off-season just gone, reuniting with Daryl Powell at Wakefield Trinity.

Dave Watson

New Zealand international Watson was already a stalwart when he joined Sheffield in 1998, turning 32 a few weeks after the cup heroics in the capital. In England alone, he’d already played for Whitehaven, York, Hull KR, Halifax & Bradford with a mass of clubs Down Under too including Cronulla & the Gold Coast Crushers.

In the final, the Māori representative memorably prevented Tony Smith from edging Wigan back into it late on with a last-ditch try-saver, that his final ‘hoorah’ of an illustrious career. Watson would go on to feature for both Workington Town & Rochdale Hornets before calling time on his playing days in this country in 2002.

As we understand it, Watson – who will turn 58th this year – returned to the Southern Hemisphere, and hasn’t been in the public eye since. We’re stumped here, so if you know what he is up to now, let us know!

Mark Aston

Mark Aston
Left: 1998 – Mark Aston jumps on Keith Senior’s back as Sheffield Eagles celebrate their victory in the Challenge Cup final; Right: 2024 – Sheffield Eagles head coach Mark Aston is interviewed at the RFL Championship media day

Playmaker Aston was responsible for five of the 17 points scored by the Eagles at Wembley, and got the assist on Pinkney’s opening try with his pinpoint kick out wide, earning the Lance Todd Trophy as he was named man of the match.

The Eagles were Aston‘s first professional club, and having stayed there until 1994, he still holds their all-time points record (2127) to this day as well as being their all-time top appearance maker (372). His heroics in the cup final came in the half-back’s second spell with Sheffield, those stints separated by a year or so with Featherstone Rovers.

And Aston was the easiest on this list to track down. When the Eagles merged with Huddersfield in 1999, he co-founded the ‘new’ Sheffield Eagles club, named player-coach back then. Incredibly, he remains the head coach to this day having hung up his boots in 2004, and will be the one heading up Sheffield at the DW tonight.

Aston briefly stepped down from his head coach role in 2005, but was back at the helm come 2007. That short break is the only one he’s taken since 1999, simply phenomenal. Now 56, he also spent circa six years as Ireland‘s head coach on the international scene, leaving the Wolfhounds in 2017.

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Paul Broadbent (captain)

England and Great Britain international Broadbent, who captained the Eagles, had spent circa 12 years with the club and – as we later found out – 1998 would be his last.

The prop – who played for England in the 1995 World Cup – would join Halifax at the end of ’98, and play for Hull FC too before joining newly-formed York in 2003 as their player-coach, departing at the end of the same season after defeat in the third tier play-offs by Barrow.

Broadbent also had a coaching gig on the international scene with Italy between 2012 and 2014 before he was succeeded by Trent Barrett. Now 55, among a whole host of other roles, he now works for the Dame Kelly Holmes charity helping to inspire young people through both education and sport.

Johnny Lawless

Johnny Lawless, Rod Doyle, Neil Cowie
Sheffield Eagles’ Johnny Lawless (right) & Rod Doyle (left) tackle Wigan Warriors’ Neil Cowie during the 1998 Challenge Cup final

Lawless – who represented both Ireland & England at international level – joined Sheffield from hometown club Halifax in 1995, and starred in the nine at Wembley having scored a try in Round 4 against Egremont Rangers.

The hooker would remain with the club under the Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants name, eventually departing for a return to Halifax in 2001. He would end his career back at The Shay, retiring at the end of the 2003 season.

After retiring, he founded ‘Minds Matter‘, delivering mental health first aid training to establishments across the UK and regularly hosting sessions with rugby league players. Lawless will turn 50 in November.

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Dale Laughton

Prop Laughton started his career with the Eagles, who he debuted for in 1992. As well as lifting the cup in 1998, he would go on to be named in that year’s Super League Dream Team. The year prior, he had made four appearances for Wakefield Trinity.

Featuring for both Scotland and Great Britain, the prop remained under the Huddersfield-Sheffield tagline, and then in 2001 stuck with Huddersfield Giants when the merger ended. After 18 appearances for Warrington Wolves in 2002 as they reached the Super League play-offs for the first time, he hung up his boots in 2003 after five games back at Sheffield in the third tier.

The Barnsley-born forward, who turned 54 in January, briefly took on a coaching role with the Eagles following his retirement and set up a building company.

Paul Carr

Paul Carr, Matt Crowther
Sheffield Eagles’ Paul Carr (left) & Matt Crowther (right) celebrate their 1998 Challenge Cup final triumph over Wigan Warriors

It was experienced second-rower Carr’s carry which led to Pinkney’s opening try, 30 at the time of the final with his 31st birthday just 11 days away.

The Australian had played Down Under for South Sydney before joining Hunslet in 1992 and soon after, linking up with the Eagles. Making over 100 appearances, the 1998 campaign would be his last before heading home to Australia, where he remains to this day.

Carr, like many of the ’98’ heroes, has now been inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame. Now 56, all of the forward’s children were born during his time with Sheffield. And while over here, he picked up an international cap for Scotland, representing his heritage when he appeared against France in July 1997.

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Darren Shaw

The Eagles had an all-Australian second-row at Wembley, and in at 12 was Shaw, a Brisbane Broncos junior who spent over 15 years in England all told.

After following up a spell with London Broncos with a very brief return home to Canberra Raiders, Shaw joined Sheffield in 1998, lifting the cup just a few months later. Featuring 12 times for Scotland, he would go on to play for Castleford, London (again), Salford, Oldham & Rochdale before moving into coaching after retiring from playing during the 2005 season.

Now 52, Shaw would coach Leigh as well as Rochdale, eventually returning Down Under in 2011. Until the end of 2022, he had been coaching local side Rockingham Sharks, but departed needing a hip replacement and handed the reins over to player-coach Tom Murphy.

Rod Doyle

Rod Doyle
Rod Doyle in action for Sheffield Eagles

Rounding off the Eagles’ starting 13, Doyle – now 54 – rounded off his career with Sheffield having played Down Under for St George, Eastern Suburbs (now known as Sydney Roosters) and the South Queensland Crushers.

The forward had seen brother Jeff make the switch over to England a few years prior with Hull FC, and joined the Eagles in 1997. Across three seasons, the now-54-year-old would make 74 Eagles appearances, with 13 tries to his name in their colours. One of those tries came in the Round 4 rout of Egremont en-route to the Challenge Cup final.

Doyle is back in Australia, living relatively close to Byron Bay near Brisbane, and is involved in a local country club which doubles up as a retirement village.

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The interchange bench

Martin Wood

Born on Christmas Day, Wood was already an experienced head when he joined Sheffield in 1997 having won promotion with Halifax, and spent four years with Keighley Cougars, sandwiched by a stint at the now-defunct Scarborough Pirates.

Sheffield paid £95,000 – plus Mark Gamson – for the signings of Wood and team-mate Pinkney from Keighley, with Wood – now 53 – appearing as an interchange in the final. He would eventually return to Keighley in 1999, winning the second tier Player of the Year award in 2000.

Two years later, after stints at both Workington Town (player-coach) & Hull KR, the utility moved into amateur rugby league, coaching at the same time, notably helping Sharlston Rovers to victory against Dewsbury Rams in the Challenge Cup in 2004. Having emigrated, Wood spent time coaching at Rockingham Sharks alongside ex-Eagles team-mate Darren Shaw until recently.

Lynton Stott

Lynton Stott
Lynton Stott in action for Sheffield Eagles

Newton-le-Willows native Stott started and finished his career with the Eagles, surpassing the 100 appearances mark in the 1998 season, which was his last in that first stint before joining Wakefield.

After spells with Doncaster, Workington and Hull KR, the utility back return to Sheffield to round off his playing days in 2005, making a further 14 appearances to take his career tally over 300, also surpassing the milestone of 100 tries.

52-year-old Stott has – until recently – been involved in the game ever since, holding a number of roles with companies which supply teamwear such as ISC and Steeden, also previously working for Bradford Bulls. In June last year however, he took a career break, and is currently enjoying some time off.

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Darren Turner

When Turner scooted over from dummy-half having come off the bench as an interchange, it more or less put the seal on victory for the Eagles, even with 28 minutes or so remaining. At that point, Wigan would have had to stage a record comeback to turn things around and be the ones lifting the cup.

Turner, who celebrated his 50th birthday last October, had been with Sheffield since 1992 and was very much an ‘impact’ sub in 1998, with 10 tries come the end of that season in a year which saw 11 of his 24 appearances come off the bench. The hooker remained under the Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants tagline, and stuck with Huddersfield post-merger.

Hanging his boots at the end of the 2004 season, Turner would put them back on a few years back as he featured for community outfit Underbank Rangers in the Challenge Cup, but it appears he hasn’t really been involved with rugby league since then, other than appearing in the charity cricket events put on by the Eagles.

Michael Jackson

No, not that one. This Great Britain international started out with Hunslet, and was snapped up in 1991 for a fee of £60,000 by Wakefield Trinity before going on to pen a two-year deal with Halifax in the summer of ’93.

By the time the forward was signed by the Eagles in January 1998, he had commanded almost £100,000 in transfer fees, with £28,000 paid by Sheffield to Fax for his services. Jackson – who scored a try in the Challenge Cup semi-final against Salford – would end his career with the Eagles, featuring 46 times in total with his last appearance in May 2000 against Featherstone.

A few years after retiring, the forward – now 54 – emigrated to Australia, and has been Down Under circa 17 years now.

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Head Coach: John Kear

Sheffield Eagles
John Kear’s Sheffield Eagles lift the Challenge Cup in 1998

The man who led the Eagles to glory. Kear is one of rugby league’s true stalwarts, involved in the game for pretty much his entire life with his 70th birthday coming up in November.

He took the reins at Sheffield in 1997, leading them into the Premiership semi-final that year and following it up in ’98 with this unforgettable cup triumph. Numerous members of the Eagles squad have since opened up on his pre-match speeches which galvanised them and grew confidence internally.

Kear, who headed up Bramley and PSG before taking charge of Sheffield, remains Wales‘ head coach to this day, has also led both France & England on the international front. He remained in charge of the Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants when they merged, ultimately leaving to become Stuart Raper‘s assistant at Wigan.

Hull, Wakefield, Batley Bulldogs, Bradford and Widnes Vikings are the other clubs he has been at the helm of to date, with the ex-Castleford Tigers player (127 appearances) now having taken charge of over 400 games as a coach. Kear’s latest stint at club level with Widnes ended in June 2023 and he also enjoys doing punditry duties with the BBC.

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Wigan Warriors’ 1998 Challenge Cup Final line-up

For reference, here’s the Wigan team from the 1998 Challenge Cup Final…

John Monie
John Monie, Wigan Warriors’ head coach between 1998 and 1999

Starting 13: Kris Radlinski, Mark Bell, Gary Connolly, Danny Moore, Jason Robinson, Henry Paul, Tony Smith, Tony Mestrov, Robbie McCormack, Stephen Holgate, Denis Betts, Simon Haughton, Andy Farrell (captain)

Interchanges: Neil Cowie, Lee Gilmour, Terry O’Connor, Mick Cassidy

Head coach: John Monie

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