Sheffield Eagles stalwart Mark Aston is hoping his club's inaugural Championship Grand Final triumph can take them a step closer to a return to Super League.
In the days before Super League licensing, Sunday's thrilling 20-16 victory over 2011 champions Featherstone at Warrington would have secured promotion for the Eagles but they must wait until 2014 for their first chance to apply for a place among the elite.
Aston says the victory has justified all his efforts so far and he is hoping it can rekindle support for the game in south Yorkshire. "There are a lot of people out there who used to watch Sheffield when they were in Super League and they got disillusioned with it," he said. "Hopefully this will relight the fire and they will come back."
Sheffield were among the founder members of Super League back in 1996 and stunned the world of rugby league with their Challenge Cup win over Wigan in 1998 but their success failed to bring in the crowds and a merger with Huddersfield led them to the brink of extinction.
The name would have disappeared altogether but for the perseverance of Aston, man of the match in their Wembley triumph, who helped re-form the club 13 years ago with the ultimate aim of winning back their Super League spot.
Much of the Eagles' recent success has been built on the impact made by their flamboyant Pacific Island trio of Menzie Yere, Quentin Laula-Togagae and Misi Taulapapa but, under Aston, the club have started to lay firm foundations for the future of the game in Sheffield.
"We do a lot of work in the community," he said. "We've got our own performance structure in there with the scholarship and the academy. This is only the icing on the cake. The cake is all underneath there.
"We need people to buy into us and the dream is that hopefully one day we'll be back in Super League competing. We're not going to say that will be this year or next year. When we're ready we'll apply and, if we feel that's at the next round of licensing, then why not?"
Sheffield's triumph, which came 12 months after their humiliating 40-4 Grand Final defeat by Featherstone, followed a 16-13 victory by neighbours Doncaster over Barrow in the Championship 1 play-off final which was played as a curtain-raiser at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
"It puts rugby league back on the map in south Yorkshire," Aston said.
- Mark Aston
- Super League
- Sheffield Eagles