Featherstone Rovers players placed on leave

James WebsterJames Webster
James Webster
Featherstone Rovers' players, coaches and most club staff have been put on leave, but boss James Webster says they will be ready to go when the Betfred Championship season resumes.

Rovers have not played since a Coral Challenge Cup fifth round win over Hunslet on Friday, March 13 and - under government restrictions - the squad are unable to train together.

With little or no funds coming in - and no end in sight to the sport’ shutdown - clubs are beginning to feel the pinch financially and Rovers are among those who have placed employees on leave - or furlough - in a bid to cut costs.

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Under the coronavirus job retention scheme, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will reimburse 80 per cent of furloughed workers’ wages, up to £2,500 per month.

Featherstone Rovers' defence gets to grips with Jarrod O'Connor, of Leeds Rhinos, during a pre-season game in January. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.Featherstone Rovers' defence gets to grips with Jarrod O'Connor, of Leeds Rhinos, during a pre-season game in January. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Featherstone Rovers' defence gets to grips with Jarrod O'Connor, of Leeds Rhinos, during a pre-season game in January. Picture by Bruce Rollinson. | jpimedia

The initiative is designed to prevent employees being made redundant during the Covid-19 crisis.

Webster, Rovers’ head coach, reckons it is a sensible move.

He said: “It is a good scheme by the government, it will protect a lot of Championship clubs.

“The whole site has been shut down - you can’t have groups of more than two - so realistically we are unable to work in what would be a proper environment for our work.

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Featherstone Rovers' Gareth Gale gives Sam Walters, of Leeds Rhinos, a lift during this year's pre-seasn clasdh. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.Featherstone Rovers' Gareth Gale gives Sam Walters, of Leeds Rhinos, a lift during this year's pre-seasn clasdh. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Featherstone Rovers' Gareth Gale gives Sam Walters, of Leeds Rhinos, a lift during this year's pre-seasn clasdh. Picture by Bruce Rollinson. | jpimedia

“The players are off by themselves, doing some stuff individually and trying to keep fit, but we don’t have anyone working.”

With time to kill, Webster has been “watching a lot of matches, trying to get a better understanding of teams around us,” but admitted: “Nobody knows who you are going to play next or how long you’re going to be off, so you can’t do too much planning.

“It’s just familiarising yourself with the opposition.”

Rugby league at all levels was suspended 15 days ago, initially until April 3.

That has now been extended indefinitely and - with 22 rounds still to play before the play-offs - a Championship Grand Final in October seems unlikely.

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“I would love to get started again by June if we could,” Webster said.

“That would give us a really good chance of getting a full season in without a ridiculous fixture schedule, but I would say it [the spread of the virus] would need to peak and come down again within the next three weeks for that to happen.

“In Australia it is coming down already, but some countries have reacted differently to others, as in rates of infection and so on.

“Hopefully we are not too far off it reaching its maximum and once it comes down people can start planning, but until that happens are all in limbo.

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“I think we will get some type of season in, I think they will keep extending it to get as much of the season in.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a December finish.”

Players’ fitness levels will also have to be taken into consideration when the sport resumes, but Webster does not feel a mini pre-season is essential.

“It doesn’t bother me, I’d just play,” he insisted.

“I’d bring some things in like increasing the number of interchanges for the first three or four weeks, but I think it’s so important to get back playing, I’d just start playing.

“That would be the main thing for me.

“In an ideal world you’d like a three- or four-week preparation, but there’s bigger things to worry about than are youn going to be absolutely brilliant in round one or two.

“As long as it’s not dangerous for the players, it’d be fantastic to start up and just get into it.”