New Widnes Vikings coach John Kear returned to one of his eight former clubs as his Cestrian charges travelled over the Pennines to take on the Sheffield Eagles, the side which Kear steered to Challenge Cup glory twenty-five years ago in 1998 to play against a side now coached by the man of the match on that famous Wembley afternoon, Mark Aston.
The sides were sat in third and fourth in the table and knew that a win would take them level on league points with Featherstone Rovers and Toulouse Olympique XIII at the top of the table although either club would need to register a win of more than one hundred points to sit at the top of the pile.
It was an intriguing fixture and give us more idea of the true 2023 potential of these two sides.
On eight minutes a superb pass from Corey Aston was perfect for Matty Dawson-Jones to cross in the corner for the opening points of the game. Aston converted superbly from the touchline for 6-0, Sheffield dominating the early moments of the game.
Aston was again the provider for the second time in the game, with a carbon copy try with Ben Jones-Bishop going over by the corner flag. Aston was again on target with the conversion for 12-0, the perfect start for the Eagles.
Aston was tormenting the Vikings defence and on seventeen he found Titus Gwaze to break the line and go under the sticks for the score. Aston added the conversion, Sheffield scoring at a point a minute.
A poor pass from Shane Grady wasn’t collected by Ryan Ince and Dawson-Jones picked up the loose ball to run thirty metres to score. Aston again hit the target with another difficult conversion, the Eagles in total control with the Vikings not able to make any headway.
Just before the interval Ryan Ince snatched the ball on his own thirty metres and sprinted the length of the field to score Widnes first points of the game. Jack Owens added the conversion for a 6-24 half time score.
Widnes were like a different side at the start of the second half, Danny Craven scooting from acting half back to go in for a try on forty-six to further reduce the arrears. Owens added the conversion for 12-24.
An Aston penalty returned the scoreboard to Sheffield´s favour after a failure to correctly play the ball by Craven. Within a minute Craven blocked Jones-Bishop as he tried to retrieve a dead ball and return to play it. The referee sin-binned Craven on fifty-two, the Vikings self-destructing.
A minute later Joel Farrell was sin-binned for Sheffield, possibly for a knee in the tackle, both sides now playing with twelve men.
Widnes blew two clear chances to score tries with the first being held up over the line before Fozard dropped the ball in the act of scoring.
After multiple changes for Widnes, Sheffield finally managed to get some ball downfield with Brandon Douglas managing to burrow over the line under a pile of four Widnes tacklers to force the ball to the ground. Aston added the conversion, six from six, for 32-12 on sixty-four minutes.
A one-hundred-metre try from Matty Chrimes, taking a Craven kick to the corner and avoiding his tackler to go the length of the field. Aston missed his first kick of the game, but the points and third place were in the bag for the Eagles with ten minutes remaining.
Another intercept try, this one from Corey Aston, saw the half-back take the ball close to his own line and evade the chasers as he sprinted downfield. Aston was on target for 42-12.
Sheffield were as good in defence as they were in attack as the boded their time and punished Widnes for any slight mistake. Mark Aston has his side finely tuned and honed and they will challenging for play-off places come the end of the season. Widnes had a bad day at the office, very little went their way and some silly errors and ill discipline eventually cost them dear.
Sheffield Eagles: Chrimes (T), Jones-Bishop (T), Welham Dawson-Jones (2T), Aston (T, 7G), Thackeray, Douglas (T), Halafihi, Dickinson, Murphy, Farrell J (SB on 53), Gwaze (T). Subs: Broadbent, Wood, Sene-Lefeo, Hodgson. 18th Man: .
Widnes Vikings: Owens (2G), Millar, Fleming, Edge, Ince (T), Craven (T, SB on 52), Lyons, Lawton, Fozard, Amor, Grady, Wilde, Bent. Subs: Field, Walker, Hatton, Davies. 18th Man: Brown.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 16-0, 18-0, 22-0, 24-0, 24-4, 24-6: HT : 24-10, 24-12, 26-12, (SB), (SB), 30-12, 32-12, 36-12, 40-12, 42-12: FT.
Lead Exchanges: Sheffield.
Referee: Liam Rush.