Sheffield chief Mark Aston reckons the Eagles tick all the boxes for Super League – except one.
With a thriving youth set-up developing nicely in to scholarship and academy structures at the Eagles, an impressive home ground in the shape of Bramall Lane, and being placed in a relatively Super League free zone in South Yorkshire, Sheffield are working towards an application for 2015.
Their progress to the Championship Grand Final last season has seemingly ticked the on-field box, but it is growing a fan base which remains the main concern for Aston and the club.
Aston said: “We’ve ticked many of the boxes, but to be in a position to apply, we’ve got to generate interest and get the crowds in. If we do that, we tick all the boxes.
“A lot of people are talking about the development in South Yorkshire. We’ve got all the structures in place, and there are some good kids coming through, we just need to get a fanbase, and when we do, we’ll be capable of going to Super League.
“I look back at attendances when we were last in Super League, and even before then, and the weeks after Wembley we were getting 8000 at games, and the average was around 4-5000. Those people are still out there, it’s about how we re-engage them in to our culture and systems.”
A huge blow to Aston’s hopes of growing a fan base in South Yorkshire was the decision not to award Bramall Lane with a World Cup game in 2013, and to ignore Sheffield completely as a host city, a decision which Aston believes was a mistake.
He added: “It was a massive disappointment. It would have helped us get a fan base, helped to expose the game to the city of Sheffield at the highest level.
“We had the backing of the council, Sheffield United behind us, the use of their training facilities which are second to none, the Chamber of Commerce were supporting us and lots of other partners that we needed to develop the game.
“To not get a game or host city was gutting. We’ve been here before and been kicked in the lower regions before, and we’ve got up, and we’ll do it again. It’s just a bit disappointing that they can’t see through the heartlands.”
Former Great Britain international Aston arrived at Sheffield in 1985, and has been at the club ever since as player, coach and chief executive. He still holds the club record for most goals (986), most points (2142) and most appearances (389) for the club.