I SAID last week I am not a fan of playing two games in four days over the Easter holiday and I think last weekend proved my point.
Not because the games were poor or the crowds were down, the opposite in fact.
The Thursday/Friday games were a rivalry round and I thought it was great.
If you got to watch one of the games on TV, they were all quite brilliant, all great games, played in front of big crowds.
Even though it was a classic slogfest at Wakefield against Castleford, it was a close game that went right down to the last few minutes.
The Hull derby was a great contest as well, with quite a few thrills and spills and a lot going on and Saints-Wigan was in the balance right until the last play.
We had a draw at Huddersfield and even though it wasn’t a great game and it wasn’t perfect, it was exciting all the way through and you didn’t know who was going to win right until the final kick.
Those are the games people want to see, either at the ground or on tv. The passion and the drama is what makes our sport.
I can’t see any reason why they don’t spread the rivalry round over the whole Easter weekend and do away with the second game.
Then you could have a full weekend of derbies with them all on tv – one on Thursday, two on Good Friday, one on Saturday and either one each on Sunday and Monday or two on Easter Monday. It would be a great advert for the game, both the quality of the rugby and the size of the crowds who turn up and it wouldn’t put as much strain on the players.
I’ve written before about getting the marketing of the sport right and I think that’s the way forward, having a full round of rivalry matches, all televised.
I am sure that would attract viewers who don’t normally watch rugby league and if they get a taste of the rivalry matches they will want to come back for more.
We need to keep the hype that comes with Easter, but for the welfare of the players we also have to get rid of the second game.
Having said that, I want to comment on how well all the teams stood up on Monday.
I didn’t see all the games, but I watched Catalans against Huddersfield, which was close for the first half before the Dragons got on top and I was at our game against Salford.
The crowd that turned up on Monday was brilliant.
It was a filthy day and to still get 10,000 at Headingley was a great effort.
I think the size of the crowd and the support our boys got was what helped get them through and I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of getting out to watch games live at the stadium, rather than on tv.
The other point I want to make this week is about how the trials of 2016 are helping us now.
It was a terrible year, but the likes of Ash Handley, Cam Smith, Josh Walters and Mikolaj Oledzki – he wasn’t really part of it, but he was at the club – are all benefiting now from what we went through two years ago. People were ready to rip out the kitchen sink in anger at the performances we put in in 2016, but I think everyone can see now it was a learning curve.
As a squad, we have come out of it a lot stronger and we’ve come a long way because of that experience.
It definitely helped us last year, when we won the title and you can see the benefits now.
Compare this year to 2016 and there’s not a lot of difference.Now, like then, we’ve got a lot of first-choice players off the field injured, but we have handled it a lot better. Some harsh lessons were learned two years ago and they are being put into practice now.
The players who have come in are a couple of years older and more experienced and they know what it is all about.
They know what it’s like to come into a team that’s missing a few key players and how to adapt and how to handle the adversity.
Everybody – as a squad and individual players – has learned how to respond and that has made us better as a team.