Ahead of their clash with runaway leaders Sheffield-Hallam Eagles at Landseer Avenue on Saturday (2.30pm K.O), Bristol Sonics Head Coach Jason Talbot has challenged his players to secure a spot in the end-of-season play-offs.
The Sonics sit bottom of Conference League South with four games remaining following a largely disappointing season, and must realistically win three of their remaining four games to sneak into the play-off places.
But Talbot, who has seen his side pick up two wins in the last three matches, is confident that the Sonics can do it.
The experienced coach said: “It’s been a very difficult season, with injuries and retirements meaning that we’ve had to re-build the side from scratch, but we’ve consistently improved week-on-week since April. We’re not the finished article by any means, but we’re finally beginning to play with confidence, defend better and control the game. We played really well in patches against Oxford and Leicester, winning the latter game at the death. I have a sneaky feeling a really good performance is just around the corner, and it would be good to see it against Sheffield.”
The Sonics feature a daunting task against unbeaten Hallam Eagles, whose only defeat in the competition came in April 2013. Their conquerors? None other than Bristol Sonics.
Talbot said: “Sheffield are a terrific side, packed with talented players from KIngstone Press Championship club Sheffield Eagles. They’ve run away with this league this season, but they’re not unbeatable. The Sonics have beaten them before, and if we take the right attitude into the game and play for each other, defending every set like it’s our last, then we can surprise them.”
Talbot is able to field a strong side this week, with skipper Dom Swann set to feature for the first time since May. Also returning is impressive full-back Michael Harrison – man of the match in the win over Oxford – and livewire scrum half Fraser Robinson.
The Sonics are also set to field two sets of brothers for the first time, with Daniel and Harry Brooker and props Tony and Dan Harvey all in the starting line-up. Elsewhere, 16 year-old Jack Uren, who has impressed playing for the Sonics’ second team this season, is rewarded with a place on the wing.
Captain Dom Swann, who has been forced to watch much of the season on the sidelines, is relishing his return. He said: “It’s great to be back! I’ve watched the lads improve as a side in my absence, so I’m really looking forward to playing with them all again and hopefully putting in a great performance. I think there’s three of four of us in the side who played in that win over Hallam last season, so we’ll be telling the lads that it can be done, and how. They’re a big, strong side with great strike players. They move the ball really well and we’ll need to defend aggressively, with good movement, if we’re going to get anywhere near them. We’re due a big performance, though, and tomorrow would be the ideal time to deliver.”
There should be a carnival atmosphere at Landseer Avenue tomorrow, despite predicted rain, with landlords Dings RFC hosting a club training day for adults and juniors. The Sonics are offering free entry to Saturday’s match, and Swann is keen to see a big, hostile crowd backing his side.
He said: “Attendances have been going up over the course of the year, and it would be great to have a big crowd behind us on Saturday. The standard of Rugby League will be high and it should be an entertaining game. The bar will be open, too, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.”
Bristol Sonics take on Sheffield-Hallam Eagles at Landseer Avenue, Lockleaze, on Saturday 2nd August, kick-off 2.30pm.