THIS IS turning into a very strange Betfred Super League season.
There have been some unexpected results, at both ends of the table and the weather has had a major bearing on proceedings so far.
Last year’s league leaders, Castleford Tigers, now have three games in hand on Warrington Wolves, who may or may not be among their rivals for a semi-final place after 27 rounds.
Tigers have played back-to-back games only once, in rounds one and two. They then had a break for the World Club Challenge, played, had a match postponed, played and then had another game called off.
This is officially round seven, but Warrington haven’t had a postponement and played their round 12 fixture at Widnes Vikings in the third weekend of the season, when last year’s top-eight weren’t in Super League action.
Warrington will be in Ladbrokes Challenge Cup fifth round action when Super League round 12 comes along in a month’s time.
Possibly the weather will have improved by then. Seven of the 12 clubs have had at least one game called off so far.
Wakefield Trinity and Widnes last weekend featured in the first game, since Super League began 22 years ago, to be abandoned due to the elements.
That has caused some controversy, but criticism of Trinity is harsh. Wakefield made a huge effort to get the match played and it kicked-off on time at 6.30pm on Saturday. A blizzard after 27 minutes reduced visibility to almost zero and referee Liam Moore, sensibly, took the players off.
Fans who made the trip from Widnes weren’t happy, but two hours before kick-off there was very little snow on the ground and no sign of what was to follow.
Possibly Trinity could have called it off due to the weather forecast, but that isn’t always accurate and the bottom line is, clubs are under huge pressure to play when they are scheduled to, because the calendar is so ridiculously crowded.
There is an international break in June, when England will take on New Zealand in the United States. The game is likely to be rearranged for then, but that will disadvantage Trinity who will be without their most exciting player, winger Tom Johnstone.
Other than Challenge Cup weekends, there are no other free dates. When Trinity’s home game against Huddersfield Giants was postponed three weeks ago, volunteers and staff banded together to clear the snow and it was able to go ahead two days later.
But that cost Trinity, who aren’t the wealthiest of clubs, a £15,000 fee from Sky Television and an estimated £20,000 in total. Under RFL operational rules, if a game is abandoned up to or at half-time fans should be offered a 50 per cent refund on their ticket price.
Wakefield chairman Michael Carter, one of those who shovelled snow in an attempt to get last weekend’s game played, has offered free admission to the rearranged date for anyone holding on to their ticket stub.
So opting not to play is a huge decision and it is no surprise clubs try to avoid being in that situation. There was more controversy when Hull’s home game against Warrington went ahead the day after Wakefield’s visit of Huddersfield didn’t.
Sky switched their cameras there, but only a handful of Warrington fans made it and the team had to make some of the journey by train because the M62 was closed.
It is a rare occurrence, but perhaps the Rugby Football League needs to take the initiative and call games off if a ‘do not travel’ weather warning is issued.
That won’t solve the issue of when to rearrange matches. Midweek games are not an easy option, particularly with so many matches being staged on Fridays.
In an ideal world, Super League would begin when the clocks go forward at the end of March.
Scrap the Super-8s and go straight into the play-offs and that would be possible, but clubs would then face a six-month closed season.
Playing the Challenge Cup at the start of the year would address that, but it is a problem with no simple solution.