Stadium problems mask deeper issues at Sheffield

Much has been made in recent days of the problems currently faced by Sheffield Eagles, who are having to use what many other coaches and players in the game seem to regard as sub-standard changing facilities at Owlerton Greyhound Stadium.

Leigh were only the latest to lambast the facilities, while also sticking a half century of points on a poor Eagles side on Sunday.

Doncaster and Featherstone have also handed out proper doings to Aston’s men on their own patch in recent weeks, while the likes of Barrow have also won at Owlerton. Sheffield have now lost four of their last five at home, whilst winning five from six away from home.

That home form has left them on the cusp of fighting a relegation battle, after back-to-back titles.

To be honest, some of the criticism lobbed the club’s way from supporters of other teams has been childish and solipsistic. Fans who would rather see a team fold than have a place to play are simply immature.

Some would do well to remember the times that their own clubs have been in the mire recently. It is also a truism that Championship Rugby League may have some good stadiums, but they tend to be in places where transport links and other amenities are limited.

Unsunstantiated rumours that the Eagles players do not like the facilities themselves were perhaps only to be expected. Players are notoriously sensitive to such matters, it seems. The portakabins are not the best standard of changing possible, but the RFL have passed them as fit.

Coach Mark Aston has admitted himself that the problems go much deeper than the facilities, and anyone who has watched the Eagles at all this season will be well aware that the team looks to have more shortcomings than simply an inability to win at home.

The South Seas backline of Quentin Laulu-Togagae, Menzie Yere and Misi Taulapapa looks a little past its best. The addition of Loto Tagaloa is yet to really pay off, despite some flashes of promising potential from the USA Tomahawks star of RLWC2013.

It could be time for Taulapapa to move into the back row on a full time basis, and the forwards could be where Yere’s future also lies. QLT looks to have lost a little bit of pace, though he has still offered more in attack this season than many other Eagles players.

There seems to be something missing in this Eagles team, though. They have experienced players and good youngsters, but there is no hardcore of gnarly professionals at the peak of their powers. Front rowers like Eddie Battye are tough and driven, but they are not yet ready to be the bedrock of the team.

As a result, the side seems to lack structure, and some of the handling errors have been embarrassingly bad. The team have begun to have that look of a side who just don’t know what to do to put things right any more.

Aston himself has hinted repeatedly in recent weeks that personnel changes are in the offing. That would seem to be the best approach.

This is clearly a transition season for the Eagles, but they need to handle it properly. This is the last season before the serious challenge for promotion to Super League begins.

Sheffield need to have players in place who can drive them to the levels of commitment and quality they have shown in winning back-to-back titles, plus a lot extra, if they want to be counted among the country’s rugby league elite.

At the moment, they are badly lacking. If anyone can sort it out, though, Aston can.

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