HULL KR full-back Ben Cockayne has described the Million Pound Game concept as a “disgrace” and questioned how it sits with the RFL’s policy of improving mental health in sport.
Furthermore, the 33-year-old insisted no one from the East Yorkshire club should celebrate even if they do survive Saturday’s home relegation-decider with Salford Red Devils, arguing it would be “disrespectful” to opponents who may subsequently lose their livelihoods.
Cockayne did not hold back when talking to the media today at a press conference aimed at building publicity for the crucial 80 minutes that will confirm which top-flight side stays in Super League for 2017 and which is destined for the Championship.
It is the second season of the Million Pound Game which sees the fourth and fifth-placed sides in the Qualifiers face a sudden-death play-off.
Last year, some players from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats described the week leading up to their decider with Championship Bradford Bulls as the worst of their lives knowing they could be unemployed if they were relegated to the largely part-time second-tier.
Relieved Wakefield subsequently won and saved their Super League status, Bradford remaining in the Championship, but this time around one top-flight side will be demoted.
Rovers find themselves in the Million Pound Game after crucially failing to secure a point against Huddersfield Giants, losing 23-22 in Saturday’s dramatic final Qualifiers game which saw their opponents instead claim third place and safety.
Asked if he was struggling, like Wakefield’s players before, Cockayne admitted: “On Saturday night and Sunday night I probably had my worst thoughts.
“But I got those out of the way and I’d like to think everyone else did as, after a game where you know what’s coming next – like this weekend – your mind is going to work overtime.
“We talk about mental health in our sport. Well, that’s not good for your mental health, I can tell you.
“I think the concept is a disgrace, to be honest. On Sunday morning there will be a group of people without a job.
“That’s the top and bottom of it and I’m not just talking about playing staff.
“At the end of the game there’s nothing to celebrate. If you’re on the winning side you’re faced with a bunch of people that you respect who you play a tough sport against numerous times a season who will be out of a job.
“If you’re on the losing side you’re out of a job yourself. It’s a concept that needs looking at; we’re not on footballers wages where we can pay a mortgage off in a couple of weeks.
“It is what it is and I can really rant on about this – it’s a question I could start tearing strips off – but let’s just talk about what we need to do.
“We need to turn up with the right attitude, perform at our maximum and get the win.”
Cockayne, who helped Rovers win promotion 10 years ago, was dismayed by the reaction of some visiting Huddersfield players as they celebrated wildly at KC Lightstream Stadium on Saturday.
“There was about three or four Huddersfield players who did come straight over to us who you could see did have some kind of regard for us,” he recalled.
“The rest were in the crowd carrying on as if they’d won the Challenge Cup final which I thought was probably a little disrespectful.
“But people deal with things differently.
“Provided we get the job done this Saturday I think it will be a sense of relief rather than celebration; you can’t celebrate mediocrity.
“Jumping in the crowd? There’s nothing to celebrate. Fair enough they got themselves out of an awful situation but...
“There might be some of our players that carry on like that but I’d be disappointed if any did. I won’t be one of them.
“We play a very tough sport and you respect each other whether you dislike someone or how they play you still have that respect for what you do for a living – knocking the hell out of each other.
“But there’s nothing to celebrate after this week, in my opinion.
“It’s an awful game to be in but we have to deal with it and I’m really confident of coming out of it positively even though we know Salford have some real strike.”
Rovers are without James Greenwood, the in-form second-row who injured his knee in the first half versus Huddersfield, but vice-captain Graeme Horne and France international Kevin Larroyer are vying to take his place.