Leeds Rhinos happy to travel despite coronavirus - but Catalans Dragons face financial hit

Leeds Rhinos have welcomed the decision to go ahead with Saturday’s game at Catalans Dragons, which will be the first Betfred Super League fixture played behind closed doors.

By Peter Smith
Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 6:00 am
Kevin Sinfield. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Kevin Sinfield. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The game was in doubt after the French government banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Catalans had hoped to either switch the match to Emerald Headingley this weekend or postpone it until later in the year, but Rhinos pressed for it to be played as scheduled.

Rhinos spokesman Phil Daly explained: “They wanted to switch the fixtures around so the game in August would be at Catalans, but that is a double-header with Toulouse and London Broncos.

“And with the availability of everything in the stadium, we could not put a game on at three days’ notice.”

Rhinos already have one midweek fixture scheduled this year, their delayed round two match at Huddersfield Giants which will be played next month.

Director of rugby Kevin Sinfield stressed the club are “disappointed” for their fans who will be unable to get into Saturday’s game and the Catalans club, which is set to lose out on gate and other receipts.

But he described the circumstances as “unprecedented” and said it would have been “really tough” to fit in another rearranged match later in the campaign.

Sinfield added Rhinos’ players and staff will be following medical advice during their travel and time spent in Spain and France.

Rhinos have sold 210 tickets for Saturday - to 76 different parties - and have asked fans who will be in Perpignan this weekend to contact them.

The cost of tickets will be refunded and Daly added: “We are in direct contact with the fans who have bought tickets from us.

“Some of them may have decided not to travel anyway, in light of the situation in France.

“We have been speaking to Catalans about getting fans into the stadium, but they have decided it will be played behind closed doors.”

The RFL listed a number of factors which were taken into account before the go-ahead was given to play the game as scheduled.

They were: That the match can be played; the absence of free weekends later in the season; that Catalans already have two fixtures to be rescheduled; the various logistical and player welfare issues surrounding midweek fixtures; the unreasonable financial impact that would have been caused to Leeds if the fixtures were switched and the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Super League competition.

However, the lack of paying customers will have a “huge impact” on Catalans, according to club chairman Bernard Guasch.

He confirmed the French club’s first preference was to switch the game to Leeds, but said: “Unfortunately, the Leeds Rhinos club did not accept our request.

"We then proposed to postpone the match and to play it later in the season, midweek or weekend depending on the Cup results of each club.

“We even offer a financial compensation to Leeds club for their additional travelling costs.

"Unfortunately the RFL, the Leeds Rhinos and the RFL Board did not hear our reasons, even after appealing the decision and told us to play the game as scheduled.

"We strongly regret this decision which will hugely impact the finances of the club with revenues already anticipated in our annual budget.”

Guasch added: “Unable to find a solution to choose only 1,000 supporters from our 5,500 season ticket holders and sponsors, the club has chosen to to play behind closed doors.”