Final showdown for old pals
Daryl Powell is perfectly placed to get one over his former team-mate Mark Aston today
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Sunday 02 October 2011
Daryl Powell and Mark Aston formed one of the most significant half-back partnerships of the 1980s and 1990s. This afternoon they will be trying everything they know to put one over on each other in the Co-operative Championship Grand Final for Featherstone Rovers and Sheffield Eagles respectively.
The two men share much of the on-field credit for turning Eagles into a force in the land. Powell was the club's first signing in 1984, but Aston, who arrived a year later, was destined to become an even more important figure in the club's history.
He was still there to lead them to the shock Challenge Cup final victory over Wigan in 1998. Still more fundamentally, he was there to prevent the club from folding after an abortive merger with Huddersfield fell apart.
Powell's route to today's showdown has been more complicated. By the time of that famous Wembley triumph, he had moved on to Keighley and Leeds, where he became head coach in 2001, before being shunted aside and ultimatelycoaching the Leeds Tykes' rugby union operation.
Rovers, coincidentally the other professional club for whom Aston played, brought Powell back to league. Since then, they have finished top of the Championship twice and the celebrated village club, having decided against a Super League application this time around, are committed to one for 2015.
Their consistency makes them the logical favourites at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington today, but Sheffield, after a slow start to the season, have come with a roar in the latter stages, culminating in the victory over Leigh last Thursdayto set up the reunion between the two old team-mates. "We're good mates, but the best team will win on the day," Aston insisted. "It's all about our teams, not about us."
It is a major blow to Sheffield's team that the powerful Papua New Guinea centre, Menzie Yere, is ruled out by suspension. Yere, known as The Jukebox, because he allegedly "has all the big hits," put in one big hit – or rather one dangerous throw – too many to earn his two-match ban.
Most of Featherstone's side played in last season's heartbreaking "goldenpoint" defeat by Halifax, but Powell says that is long since out of their system. "We've been even more consistent this season and that shows that we have put it behind us," he said.
That sort of consistency – Rovers lost just one League match this season – has seen Powell widely touted for a return to Super League, but he has not applied for any jobs nor has he been approached. His aspiration is to coach again at the elite level, but with Featherstone, who will have their ground up to Super League requirements by the time the next round of licences is decided.
Today's game is part of a continuing campaign to show that they could field a team up to scratch, despite sharing a hinterland with two existing clubs, Castleford and Wakefield.
The town still produces more than its share of good players, with the Leeds prospect, Zak Hardaker, the latest example. If they have the edge today, though, it will be through a pack led by the long-serving Stuart Dickens and through players like Tom Saxton and Ben Cockayne with plentyof Super League experience.
On the other side of the world, Manly play the New Zealand Warriors in the NRL Grand Final, with the winners qualifying to play the Super League champions next February.
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