SOMETIMES IT seems like we play two separate sports in one season.
At this time of the year it’s cold and usually wet and we play on soft and muddy pitches.
Then in summer – usually for one afternoon at least – it’s baking hot, the ground is rock hard and the game is totally different.
I have never got used to the idea of summer rugby beginning in February, though back in 2010 we played our first match on January 29.
That was the night we beat Crusaders in a blizzard in Wrexham and I think I have just about thawed out.
It’s not so much playing in winter conditions that’s the problem, though I was talking to the lads who are on dual-reg with Featherstone and they said last Sunday was the coldest they’ve ever experienced.
Once you get out there, you get wrapped up in the game and the discomfort goes to the back of your mind.
Your body temperature regulates and you are sweating, but when you get in the hot shower afterwards you do start to feel it and when it’s freezing rain or snowing and the pitch is a mudbath, it can get pretty miserable.
Last Thursday wasn’t too bad because it was dry. I’ve seen pictures of the games last Sunday and it looked awful.
In those conditions when you make a couple of carries or tackles you are caked in mud and once that happens you can never get warm again.
The old-school mudbaths are a nightmare to play in and I don’t think they are much fun to watch either because nobody wants to see five drives and a kick or just a succession of errors because the ball’s covered in mud.
Rugby league is a skilful game and poor conditions don’t show it in the best light. But the worst thing about starting the season in the depth of winter is you are preparing in the worst of the weather.
Pre-season’s a really important time and you are honing your skills in the cold and the wet and the mud, which doesn’t help anyone.
When you get to spring and summer and the warmer, longer days it makes a massive difference to the quality of your work. It’s a big difference between our game and Australia.
NRL clubs do their pre-season in the summer and they get massive benefits from that skill-wise.
It is always going to be the same for us and until we start to play fewer games, so the season can begin later, you are always going to get the kind of games there were last weekend.
I imagine it isn’t very pleasant as a supporter when you are going to games at 8pm and it’s just dropped below freezing.
I admire everyone who turned out to watch last week and a big ‘thank you’ goes to the Leeds fans who made the trip over to Saints.
I said you don’t really feel the cold when you are playing, but it is always nicer to get out there when the ball is dry and you get to showcase your skills a bit more. For me, the ideal thing would be to start when the clocks go forward, in March. I think this is the last year of the trial with the current format so I hope they take that into consideration when they review things.
The answer is definitely not to start a week later and cram an extra ‘Easter’ in there, because that just puts more pressure on players and squads.
Our game needs quality, rather than quantity. I think if you have to sacrifice a few games to get that, even if clubs lose a bit of money, it’s a price worth paying. Hopefully it will be dry and mild when we go to Leigh tonight.
It is their first home Super League game and I imagine they will have been focusing on it since the fixtures came out last year. They will have been disappointed with how they played against Cas last week and there’s usually a reaction when you know you haven’t done yourselves justice.
They are making an occasion of it off the field and the team will be fired up to show they belong in Super League.
It will be a great atmosphere and that’s what we all want, but we have got to put that to one side and take care of our own game. We’ve had a good week preparing, we’ve looked at them on video and formulated a plan we feel can do the job on the night and get our first win on the board.