They may be Giants…But they’re still growing
The city of Sheffield has a long football heritage, which dates back to the mid eighties when the city’s team were known as the Steel City Giants. Although they were never one of the league’s elite level teams, they were, as you might expect coming from South Yorkshire, hard nosed and determined.
Wind the clock forward to more recent times, and you would find the Sheffield Predators plying their trade in the British Leagues, again being known for a gritty approach, that reflected their then head coach, Richard Batty. In 2016, after years of dedicated service, Batty decided it was time to step away from the game.
Since 2014 Australian native Toby Chesters had been involved with the programme in a general management capacity, so after some deliberation, he offered to take over the reins as Head Coach. Chesters though, is no rookie when it comes to both playing and coaching. He had played in Australia as a running back, a natural choice for him given his previous experience as a talented rugby league player. He came to the UK in 2004, and re-located to Sheffield in 2013. Being a Head Coach wasn’t his burning ambition, “Ordinarily I prefer to coach smaller positional groups, I feel I can add more value individually in that situation” he noted. He worked with the Hallam University Warriors and that led to being involved in the GB Lions set up, where he mentored the running backs.
“When Richard stepped down I thought long and hard, but the opportunity to take the club forward was too great to resist” added Chesters. “I wanted to refresh the programme though and take it in a new direction, hence the name change and the different colours”. He set about recruiting some more players and struck lucky with the signing of GB quarterback Brad Thompson, who had won a National Championship with the London Warriors, before returning to his former club, the Tamworth Phoenix. Whilst he was with London, Tamworth had discovered another elite quarterback talent in Patrick Daley, so Thompson wouldn’t be starting for the west midlands club on his return. Chesters laid out his plan for the Giants, and Thompson bought in, the chance to be offensive co-ordinator also appealed and they sat down to flesh out their strategy. Thompson’s charisma and enthusiasm started to rub off on his team mates, and their on field performance took an upturn.
As the season got underway the Giants were utilising a new offence, defence and special teams format, that much change can take a while to bed in and in the early games although they were competitive, they couldn’t convert their performance into wins, losing to both Edinburgh and Merseyside. By the half way mark in the campaign though, they were clicking and notched some key victories, notably a 20-13 result in Edinburgh. By the end of the season they had great momentum, and in their last game recorded an emphatic 46-14 scoreline over the East Kilbride Pirates. Their four wins and six losses clearly didn’t tell the whole story.
Sheffield start their off season programme in November and will be looking to pick up where they left off last season, and then move forward from there. Recruitment has gone well and they have had numerous enquiries from players looking to have the opportunity to operate in the Premiership North Division. Chesters has good ties with the Sheffield Universities, and doubtless they will also provide valuable additions to the squad. All is set well then for a strong performance in the coming season, and Chesters has big ambitions. “I want us to make the play-offs, that would be a good measure of how much we have improved”.
Thompson is would appear, is more than up for the challenge. “I’m buzzing for the upcoming season. Reflecting on last season we left some great opportunities which we will build on in the pre-season to ensure they don't happen again. We were a completely different team at the end of the season vs the start, and that all started with believing we can win and that we belonged. We lost our 1st 2 games against both Scotish teams and then got revenge wins on the return trips including a dismantling of EKP in Sheffield. The biggest disappointments were the close losses to Merseyside, to lose 2 games by a total of less than 5 points was very frustrating and we have plans in place to ensure this doesn't happen again. For us it's all about the extra 5%... from gym to practice to last second field goals. We are truly married to the process, not the outcome and believe we are building something special in Sheffield and will take GIANT steps each and every year”
It will be very interesting to see how Sheffield perform. They have clearly grown in stature over the last year, but they will need to continue on that upward growth curve if they are to become “Giants” within the British game.