After his 500th game in charge of Sheffield Eagles, head coach Mark Aston re-lives the highs and lows from the past 16 years.

Sheffield Eagles head coach Mark Aston celebrated 500 games in charge of the South Yorkshire side last weekend, as they hosted Swinton Lions in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup on Saturday.
State of Mind 163 Mark Aston and Baz Gascoyne Chaplain
He spoke to to re-live the highs and lows of his coaching career since taking over at the turn of the century.

What has been the highlight of your coaching career so far? The foundation of the club was the start of my coaching career and that was a real highlight.

It was a memorable first couple of years. In our first game as the new club, I was still player-coach and I got a few teeth knocked out! It wasn’t the best start on a personal level, but we ended up getting a good win at Deepdale against Chorley Lynx.What has been your proudest moment as a coach?

It’s been a rollercoaster 16 years but I was immensely proud to see us develop our own players through our own. We started the careers of people like Jordan James and Andy Raleigh, plus internationals like Mitch Stringer and Jack Howeison who both played for Scotland.…and any low moments?

There have been a few, as there always will be over 500 games, but I’d say a lowlight was losing to Thornhill Trojans in the Challenge Cup. They were a very good side at the time but that was a real disappointment for me.

In your early days as a coach, you combined the role with playing, how was that? It was tough. My advice to anyone thinking about it would be – don’t do it! It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in Rugby League. Although you’re an older player, you have to set the standard in every department from skill through to fitness, otherwise, it’s much harder to motivate people. If you make mistakes anywhere, you become accountable. I did it for three years which was far too long! I do misss playing, but it’s a young man’s game and I love what I’m doing now – it give me a real buzz.

From a coaching perspective, who do you look up to? Although I’ve done 500 games, I’m still only 48 and see myself as a young coach, so I always look up to people. Wayne Bennett’s philosophies such as remembering every players’ name, from juniors up to first team, is something I definitely aspire towards. Daryl Powell is a great coach as well. We’ve come across each other a number of times, we’re a similar age and we’re close friends, but I take a lot of inspiration from what he’s achieved in the game.

Who has been your best piece of business as a coach? Good question! There have been a few but I think Mitch Stringer was arguably the best one. We scouted the local area and spotted this raw 17 year old who we bought for £500. We then sold that same kid to London Broncos a few years later for £35,000! That was a proud moment.… and your worst piece of business?

Aaron Groom for me. We were really excited to bring him in. He was a 21 year old and a Fiji international who had played a handful of NRL games. I thought he’d go on to become the biggest signing in the club’s history, but he struggled and we let him go back down under with our best wishes. To his credit, he’s carved out a solid career in the lower leagues over there.

Who has been your favourite referee during your time as coach? I came across Richard Silverwood and Robert Hicks during their early days as professionals and they were both a pleasure to deal with. I coached in Richard’s first professional game and I remember him being talkative and introducing himself, which was very good of him. Robert was the same, he always made an extra effort to have a chat with the coaches which can make all the difference in what is such a tough job.

Who is the best coach that you have come up against during your time at Sheffield? I’ve been fortunate to come across a few good coaches in my time here, such as Daryl Powell, Shaun Wane, and Justin Morgan when he was doing really well with Hull KR, but Trent Robinson is a stand out. We (Sheffield) went down to Catalans when he was there and they killed us. It’s no surprise he’s gone on to do brilliant things with Sydney Roosters in the NRL.

Did you ever expect to reach 500 games? I didn’t even know I’d passed 400! It came as a shock and it seems to have come quickly. It doesn’t feel like 16 years but, when I look in the mirror, I certainly looks like it! It’s not something I keep track of but hopefully there will be plenty more games to come.

What are your hopes for the future? I don’t look too far ahead but the dream is to bring top flight Rugby League back to Sheffield. That was the dream when the club reformed and, with us going full time and getting our own stadium soon, hopefully we have everything in place to start making that push. I don’t think I’ll make another 500 games as coach, but I’d love to still be involved with Sheffield in 16 years’ time.

The club has been a part of my life for over 30 years and I don’t think that will change any time soon!