Rugby League: Rebirth of the Eagles fulfils an ambition for Aston

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MORE LIKE a phoenix than an eagle, a new Sheffield club flapped its wings for the first time last night.

Mark Aston, a Wembley hero for the original Sheffield Eagles 18 months ago, went straight from a meeting of the Rugby League Council that agreed to admit his fledglings to the Northern Ford Premiership to a training session after which he plans to sign up his first dozen players.

"I'm over the moon," said Aston, who will be the club's player-coach. "It's been a lot of hard work over the last month and I can't say I've enjoyed it, but this makes it all worth while."

Aston, the Lance Todd Trophy winner in the Challenge Cup Final in 1998, began his campaign to keep a full-time professional presence in Sheffield after his former club merged with Huddersfield.

The club will stay at the Don Valley Stadium, will begin its new life with a fixture at Lancashire Lynx on the 28 December.

"That only gives us about 19 days to prepare, but we've been training in getting to know each other over the last couple of weeks," Aston said. "It's going to be viable. We aren't getting any money from the league, but we've a support base of 2,000 and I can't believe how good the response has been from sponsors."

The meeting voted by a comfortable majority, but not unanimously, to admit Sheffield as associate members, which means that they will get their share of the income from the Challenge Cup, but not from the remaining slice of News Limited funding. Despite that handicap, Aston is confident that the new Eagles will be competitive. He intends to sign members of the previous club's Cup winning squad, including the former Great Britain second row, Michael Jackson, and says that recent upheavals have given the game a higher profile in the city than their Wembley victory did.

A vacancy appeared for the Eagles when Bramley, who had changed their minds about resigning from the league and applied to play their matches at Farsley Celtic's football ground, were told that those facilities were not up to standard. They now intend to run as an under-17 side with a possibility of resuming senior rugby at some stage in the future.

Sheffield, who have agreed not to apply for promotion for three years, even if they win the NFP, are to meet the Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants to work out how they can best help each other. The merged club is willing to concentrate the Sheffield half of its Super league fixtures in July, August and September, when the NFP season will be over.

The league's chief executive, Neil Tunnicliffe, is to meet the Thunder Storm pressure group today about the possibility of an application to field a side in Gateshead in 2001.

The chairman of Super League, Chris Caisley, has called for all the bodies running the game in Britain to move under the same roof.