Leeds Rhinos and Leeds Carnegie: Pitch 'can cope with New Year's Day double'

Fears that Saturday's union-league double-header could ruin the Headingley Carnegie pitch have been rejected by Leeds Rugby chief executive Gary Hetherington.

Union side Leeds Carnegie will take on Gloucester in an Aviva Premiership fixture at 1pm, with Leeds Rhinos facing Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in a pre-season charity game two hours later.

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The double-header – only the second time Headingley has hosted both rugby codes on one day – was devised after Rhinos' traditional Boxing Day clash with Wakefield fell victim to a frozen pitch.

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Hetherington said rising temperatures mean the January 1 event will almost certainly go ahead – and added that steps are being taken to protect the playing surface for the rest of the year.

"It is looking pretty good," said Hetherington, who is hoping for a New Year's Day combined attendance of 12 to 15,000.

"All the covers are off now and the temperature has been up to five degrees, so there has been a natural thawing of the pitch .

"We have got Premier Rugby's hot-air balloon on standby. Leeds Carnegie have got priority use of that for this weekend, though it might not be needed."

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A year ago a combination of snow, frost and too many matches caused pitch problems which lasted well into the engage Super League season – with some players and coaches in both codes branding the Headingley surface the worst they had ever seen.

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Hetherington insisted there will be no repeat of that.

He said: "The pitch is in excellent condition, primarily because nobody has been on it.

"Following the problems we had last year, Jason Booth (Headingley's head groundsman) has put together a schedule, which means minimal use of the pitch.

"Leeds Carnegie don't train on it at all. They used to use it for sessions leading up to games in the winter, but that doesn't happen any more.

"It is also one of the reasons Rhinos' pre-season games – apart from the Wakefield one – are all away.

"We have been totally supportive of Jason. We have told him 'tell us what needs to happen' and he has drawn up this schedule, which includes no training and nothing other than first-team games.

"Last year the pitch was over-used and we had a particularly bad spell when Leeds Rhinos played Bradford Bulls and Leeds Carnegie had a game as well.

"We lost the surface because of that, but that won't happen again. And from the ground staff's point of view, it is far better to have two games together rather than one on Saturday and one on Sunday."

Meanwhile, Hetherington admitted that staging two games does cause "logistical problems".

But he insisted: "It is nothing we haven't seen before or that we can't deal with.

"It is one event, rather than two separate ones. That's the reason why there's very little time – perhaps just 10 minutes – between the first game finishing and the second one starting.

"I was at Harlequins last year when Leeds Carnegie played them and an hour later St Helens played Harlequins RL.

"But that was two events – you had the rugby union crowd leaving and an hour later the league supporters coming in. It wasn't a genuine double-header.

"All the Rhinos corporates who have booked meals will be coming at 11.30 and everybody will be encouraged to watch the first game.

"Likewise, the rugby union people are being encouraged to stay and watch the Rhinos match."

Rhinos and Wildcats will use changing rooms in the South Stand. Hetherington said some seats have been double-booked and in that case Carnegie supporters will be given a separate ticket for a seat elsewhere after the union game finishes.

"People are getting two games for the price of one," said Hetherington. "It is win-win for everybody."