Uncertainty over Super League restart is doing nothing but harm – Peter Smith

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THE QUOTE “Great things may come to those who wait” has been widely attributed to the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

However, he also added the caveat “...but only the things left by those who hustle.”

Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, 30 years before the Northern Union was founded, but that quote may well sum up the position the code is in now.

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It is more than three months since any rugby league was played in this country and the Covid-19 shutdown looks set to continue until early- to mid-August.

Emerald Headingley Stadium last hosted a Leeds Rhinos match on March 5. Picture: SWPix.com.Emerald Headingley Stadium last hosted a Leeds Rhinos match on March 5. Picture: SWPix.com.
Emerald Headingley Stadium last hosted a Leeds Rhinos match on March 5. Picture: SWPix.com.

If Betfred Super League round eight is staged on August 16, which is the unofficial plan, that will be a 22-week layoff, though matches in hand could be played in the two weeks beforehand.

To put that into context, there were 15 weeks between the 2019 Grand Final and the first round of Super League this year.

Leeds Rhinos, who are one of the teams with games in hand, did not qualify for the play-offs last season and their campaign ended on September 13, so they will have played – at most – seven games in 11 months if the season restarts on August 16.

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There will certainly be a hunger for the sport, among fans and players.

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

A five-month break will have given injured players time to recover.

Momentum from March may have been lost and out of form teams could have got their mojo back.

Though there has not been much movement so far, players could well have changed clubs by the time the action resumes so the playing field – if not levelled – will be different to how it was when Covid-19 struck.

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In addition, it appears Super League is likely to return under different rules around the ruck and scrums, which might – for the rest of the season – have been removed.

Added to that, players will be fresh and eager so in that respect, it is an intriguing prospect, but rugby league certainly hasn’t “hustled”. Australia’s NRL resumed at the end of last month and this weekend’s round will be its fourth since the layoff.

Premiership football began yesterday and the Championship is set to return this weekend.

Other sports are cranking back into action, or have drawn up a restart plan, while rugby league clubs and supporters still don’t know for certain when the next matches will be played, how many there will be, under exactly what laws and what the prizes are.

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For example, is promotion and relegation still on the table?

By August, when dedicated fans will be itching for some rugby league to watch, some of the novelty of live sport will have worn off.

It’s likely the NRL, by getting back ahead of the pack, has unearthed new fans.

Some of those may give Super League a go, but equally once some supporters’ rugby league habit has been broken they might find it difficult to regain.

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Rugby league here is under more financial pressure than the NRL or football’s top two divisions.

Faced with the cost of testing for coronavirus, plus the expense of playing behind closed doors, football’s lower divisions have decided to bring their season to an early halt.

There are rugby clubs outside Super League who favour that option, particularly if promotion is not up for grabs.

For all the disadvantages, nobody can blame top-flight sides for wanting to minimise the number of matches played without fans – which moving the restart back as far as possible does.

But a concern at the moment is the lack of detail.

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On Sunday it will be six weeks until the start of August, when the first – catch-up – matches could be played and the key questions remain unanswered.

Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington has predicted an announcement by the end of this month, which would give the competition a month to prepare, but everyone involved is getting frustrated at the lack of information.

The challenges will be far from over once a date is confirmed and the fixture list is published, but it will give the game something to aim for. The current uncertainty is doing nothing but harm.


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