Leeds Rhinos prepare for new challenge as Headingley turnstiles are set to reopen following Super League derby with Wakefield Trinity
Leeds Rhinos' derby against Wakefield Trinity tomorrow will be the final Betfred Super League game in this country played behind closed doors - and the 32nd staged at Emerald Headingley.
All other round six fixtures have been moved to Monday, to take advantage of that day’s lifting of the ban on crowds in sports stadiums.
Rhinos will play in front of fans for the first time since March 5 last year when Hull are the visitors in 10 days’ time and chief executive Gary Hetherington has backed the club to rise to another huge “logistical challenge”.
Hetherington said: “All our staff and management who are responsible for safety and security, looking after all the protocols and everything that goes with staging games behind closed doors have done a terrific job.
“Headingley has been as safe a place as anywhere in the world, I’d imagine, when we have hosted these games and events.
“We have managed that all extremely well and are now in a different phase, putting all the plans in place for the return of partial crowds.
“That in itself is a real logistical challenge.”
He explained: “Our members can’t sit in their usual seats because we have to maintain social distancing.
“Effectively, every seat in the stadium has to be thought through in terms of who’s going to sit in it, how big are the groups who are going to be sitting together, what’s the social distancing and everything that does with that.
“In the lead up to next week that is a really big operation for our staff and management, but I have total confidence in them and I know we’ll come up with the best possible protocols.”
Headingley’s capacity has been set at 4,000 for Rhinos’ games against Hull on Sunday, May 25 and St Helens on Friday, June 11.
Hetherington confirmed: “The legislation says 50 per cent of capacity, or 4,000 whichever is the lower number.
“That lower number catches us, but that’s relatively appropriate because we’ve got about 8,000 members.
“We are effectively promising every one of our members they can come to one of two games, provided they have applied.
“We will be restriction-free after that, so we will be back to, hopefully, full crowds.”
The temporary capacity will be expensive for Rhinos, Hetherington admitted.
“It will cost us more to host the Hull and St Helens games with 4,000 in the stadium than it would for a full capacity crowd,” he revealed.
“That’s because of the stewarding levels required and the extra duties, maintaining social distancing and the on-going cleaning regime throughout the period the stadium is opening.
“We will need additional staff in the stadium, over and above what we would have for a normal game.
Restrictions are due to be lifted on June 21 and Rhinos’ first home game after that is against Leigh Centurions on Thursday, July 1.
“Unless there’s any further guidance the expectation is we will then be back to as near normality as possible,” Hetherington confirmed.
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