Rugby league: Eagles seek change of course

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The Independent Online
A CLUB that badly need to make the right decision about a new coach go into a highly significant Premiership first-round tie this afternoon. No, not Wigan, but Sheffield Eagles.

Sheffield have reached the top eight for the first time in their 10-year history without a coach - or, at least, without anyone who has that job as his sole responsibility.

Since the decision of their full-time coach, Bill Gardner, to return to his native Brisbane, they have put together a string of wins which elevated them to sixth place in the division. That has been done under the apparently unpromising circumstances of having their founder, chairman, head cook and

bottle-washer, Gary Hetherington, combining coaching with all his other functions.

It sounds too much for one man, but the way that the

Eagles have thrived, and qualified for a first-round tie at Warrington that they could well win, is evidence that it has worked. It is evidence also in favour of Hetherington's contention that the role of the coach has become overblown.

'If you believe what you hear about Wigan this season, then they would have won the double without a coach,' he says. 'It's my opinion that the coach gets far too much praise when things are going well and far too much blame when they are going badly.'

Hetherington, the architect of the one truly successful club outside the game's traditional boundaries, has succeeded in doing just that since he resumed control. They will be in a better mood for the return of the key players David Fraisse, Bruce McGuire and, possibly, Daryl Powell, today. Powell, Eagles' first signing, is an obvious candidate for a player- coach role under Hetherington.

TODAY'S FIXTURES (3.0 unless stated) Stones Bitter Premiership First Round Bradford v Leeds; Warrington v Sheffield; Wigan v St Helens. Second Division Premiership First Round Batley v Huddersfield (3.15); Doncaster v Dewsbury; London Crusaders v Keighley; Workington v Rochdale.