Easter double-header blasted as Robins chief prepares for derby

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Hull KR’s Australian coach Craig Sandercock has condemned Super League’s traditional Easter double-header, claiming it compromises player-welfare.

Sandercock’s men follow their Good Friday derby with Hull FC at the KC Stadium by hosting Wigan on Easter Monday.

“I don’t agree with it at all,” said the Robins chief.

“My most important job as a coach is to try and look after my players the best I can.

“We ban the shoulder charge because we’re concerned about player-welfare but we let our boys play the biggest derby of the season and then back it up two days later.

“I think it’s not a great idea.

“The derby takes a big emotional and physical toll on your team and to have to back up on Monday against Wigan, one of the best sides in the competition, is a big ask.”

Sandercock’s comments will reignite the debate over the hectic holiday schedule which usually divides the game’s traditionalists from Super League’s Antipodean coaches.

St Helens’ former St George Illawarra coach Nathan Brown admits the schedule initially took him by surprise when he arrived at Huddersfield four years ago, but he is now more receptive to the concept.

“It’s definitely different,” he said. “It’s obviously tough on the players, but I understand why it happens and everyone is in the same boat.”

Clubs are unlikely to alter the status quo because of the extra revenue generated by Bank Holiday fixtures and Leeds coach Brian McDermott believes 
Super League players are better equipped to deal with the rigours than in the past.

“I know the players are better prepared now than they’ve ever been,” he said ahead of the Easter programme kicking off tomorrow night when Leeds and Bradford meet at Headingley and London Broncos host Catalan Dragons at Twickenham Stoop.

“The more we find about sports science, the better shape they go into a game and the better shape they come out of a game.

“You wouldn’t actively seek playing three games in a space of seven or eight days, but it has less effect on the players than when I played and probably when I played it had less effect than on players 20 years before that.”

Bradford coach Francis Cummins admits the busy schedule can stretch a club’s resources, but he believes there are potential benefits.

“It can affect the clubs with smaller squads, but there are going to be opportunities to get some (new) people playing,” he said. “It’s very tough, but it’s another challenge.”

Bulls lost in France last weekend, while Rhinos had an unexpected break after their derby at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats was twice called off.

Cumins said he is not worried by that and added: “When I heard their game had been moved from Friday to Sunday you probably could hear me cheering in Catalan, but we’ve had a big focus on not worrying about peripheral things and things we can’t control.

“If we did, we’d be worrying about a load of things, because we’ve got almost a brand new club with a lot of things not quite in place.

“We’ve got on with it and we’re working really hard for each other, that’s the main thing. Don’t lose focus, get on with your game, don’t worry about other teams, make sure you are prepared and see where you are.”

Cummins had 15 seasons as a player for Leeds, followed by another five on the coaching staff before moving to their arch-rivals.

Tomorrow will be his first competitive return as a head coach – after a 24-24 draw in pre-season – and he said: “It will be emotional if we win.

“It will be emotional beforehand, but I will be doing my job during the game.

“It is special because I’ve got loads of friends at Leeds. That won’t change, but ultimately it is my job during the game and I’ll experience the emotions afterwards.

“It will be special if we win, without a doubt, but it is not about me. I want to do well and get the best record I can get, but it’s more about us as a group and seeing what we can achieve and where we are against the champions.

“We have had some challenges already, but we are going to have to play our best this week.

“There will be no Leeds players saying they want to beat Bradford because I am the coach. They want to beat Bradford because they are professional and they want to do it for each other – as I do for my group of players.

“I want them to experience it, beating Leeds at Leeds. Most of them have done it before, but to do it in the circumstances we are is more special.

“We could get some more confidence from that, which would give us great payback in the season down the road.”

Wakefield Trinity winger Peter Fox spoke of the importance of their game on Friday at Castleford.

“Playing and winning in derbies means a lot to everyone involved,” said Fox. “It’s not just the players and coaches who look forward to these games, it’s the one the fans circle at the start of the year and the one they all look forward to.

“Derby games are an important part of rugby league and the atmosphere at Wakefield and Castleford games is second-to-none.”

It will be Wakefield’s first game and Fox continued: “We’re fully focused on Friday’s game and know what we need to do. Getting a win gives a boost to the whole town and everyone can ride on a high after it. We have to approach it like any other game.”