Eagles show the form of true contenders

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Sheffield Eagles ascended to third place in the Super League last night, showing the resilience that marks them down as genuine contenders for a top-four finish, writes Dave Hadfield.

Another Sheffield sporting hero, Prince Naseem Hamed, delivered the match ball by stretch limousine and the Eagles soon had Castleford on the ropes with an early blow. Diccon Edwards, seemed to have Bright Sodje covered when he took a short pass from Ryan Sheridan, but the Sheffield winger launched himself through the tackle to score.

Sheffield went further ahead when Anthony Farrell found a gap from Paul Carr's pass, Mark Aston, who had missed with two previous efforts, adding the goal.

Castleford mounted some promising attacks, especially when the clever handling of their veteran prop, Lee Crooks, was involved. They responded to Sheffield's lead on the half-hour, Chris Smith taking Botica's reverse pass and exploiting a gaping hole in the Sheffield defence, the provider of the pass also contributing the goal points.

Last week's Challenge Cup final referee, Stuart Cummings, was unable to resume last night's duties in the second half after feeling unwell from a bout of 'flu.

Referees, like policemen, are getting younger, but his replacement, the 26-year-old Steve Ganson, from St Helens, looked barely old enough to be a ball boy. There was little wrong with his officiating, however, as the sides sparred for a decisive advantage. Castleford made the breakthrough, Andrew Schick exchanging passes with Richard Gay to go in for a try which Botica converted.

Within five minutes, Sheffield were back in front, Darren Turner, forcing his way over on an angled run soon after coming on as a substitute and Aston's kick restored their four point lead.

That margin was doubled when Aston's chip bounced back to Jean-Marc Garcia, who did well to slip the ball out for Keith Senior to score. Despite Aston's poor performance as a place-kicker his side now had the breathing space they needed to ensure their fourth victory of the season.

Sheffield Eagles: Sovatabua; Sodje, Grimley, Garcia, Senior; Sheridan, Aston; Broadbent, Lawless, McAllister, Hay, Carr, Farrell. Substitutes: Stott, Turner, Hughes, Dixon.

Castleford: J Flowers; C Smith, Goddard, Gay, Edwards; Botica, T Smith; Crooks, Russell, Sampson, Schick, Smales, Tuuta. Substitutes: Tonks, S Flowers, Sykes, Furness.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes) and S Ganson (St Helens).