Storm Ciara-hit Super League fixtures makes a mockery of the ‘summer game’ - Peter Smith's 'Inside Rugby League'
IT HAS caused a headache, but the decision to postpone the Betfred Super League matches at Huddersfield Giants and Wakefield Trinity last weekend was the right one.
Giants, Trinity and Catalans Dragons all face having to fit in two rearranged fixtures this year, including Huddersfield’s home game against Leeds Rhinos which fell victim to Storm Ciara.
After finishing 2019 in Super League’s bottom four, Wakefield and Huddersfield both enter the Coral Challenge Cup early, in the fifth round, this year so their Super League round-seven meeting, scheduled for next month’s Cup date, will need to be moved.
Trinity also have to find a slot to play Catalans, their scheduled visitors last Sunday – and to add to the chaos, the French outfit were due to visit St Helens this weekend. That is now off because Saints are facing Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge.
The problem is, there are no free dates on the calendar between now and the end of the season.
One option is to rearrange to Challenge Cup weekends, when Super League takes a break, but obviously that hinges on the teams with games in hand not reaching the final.
Otherwise, it will mean midweek dates and Thursday matches, but the rule which states clubs can’t be compelled to play twice in five days (ie, Sunday and then Thursday or earlier) adds another level of difficulty. That might need to be shelved, temporarily.
So clubs could have been forgiven for doing everything possible to get games on last weekend and it’s to their credit that both Giants and Trinity made a relatively early call to throw in the towel.
It wasn’t much use to Catalans, who were already in this country, but did prevent Yorkshire-based fans making a journey in difficult conditions.
In both cases, the game probably could have been played – though it wouldn’t have been much of a spectacle in torrential rain and strong winds – but spectator safety had to be the priority.
Weather warnings were issued and, if the public are being advised not to venture out, rugby matches have to take a back seat.
There is a case for arguing that, to prevent uncertainty, fixtures should be called off automatically if amber warnings are in force, for storms, snow or whatever.
There is an easier way to avoid the sort of disruption to rugby league fixtures in three competitions – Challenge Cup, Super League and Championship – suffered last weekend. That would be to avoid beginning a so-called summer season in January.
The first Super League campaign, back in 1996, kicked off on March 29, which made a lot more sense. Of course, 24 years ago there were no repeat fixtures or Magic Weekend and the 12 clubs played each other once both home and away, adding up to 22 rounds.
There will be seven more league fixtures per club this time, which makes an early start inevitable.
Everybody agrees a 29-game league season is too long. Rugby league is getting faster, players are getting bigger and stronger, and the collisions are more powerful.
Scrapping two games over Easter is a positive move but, even so most players will be battered and bruised by the end of the campaign and the quality of rugby inevitably suffers. So the answer is to cut the seven extra fixtures, to produce a 12-game season. Except, that is virtually a quarter of the campaign – and three home matches, plus Magic Weekend – out of the window.
Clubs already go without matchday income from September, in most cases, to the end of January or a week or two later.
That’s why some play on Boxing Day, to bring in much-needed cash.
Finishing in August, as the 1996 league campaign did, would be better for the players and boost England’s international chances, but leaves a long time between drinks on the domestic front. A 25 per cent cut in fixtures would be welcomed by players, but a similar reduction in wages might prove less popular.
Perhaps shifting the early Challenge Cup rounds into pre-season, with a spring final, would be a solution – or the Grand Final will have to be moved back a few weeks because, at the moment, there is no room to manoeuvre if the weather intervenes.