Hull KR boss Tony Smith feels England game should be postponed due to increased Covid

AFTER HULL KR became the latest club to be hit by coronavirus, concerned head coach Tony Smith has suggested next week’s game between England and the Combined Nations All Stars be postponed until later in the year.

Rovers have seen one player test positive for Covid in their latest round of testing and have four players in total who will need to self-isolate and subsequently miss Friday’s trip to Wigan Warriors.

That game is not under threat; only one of the 17 that defeated Salford Red Devils last Friday - stand-off Rowan Milnes - has had to stand down.

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However, Rovers are the third Super League club in just over a week to suffer Covid outbreaks with both Leeds Rhinos and Huddersfield Giants having to postpone games last week.

Leeds' fixture in Perpignan on Saturday is also now off after Rhinos yesterday reported more positive Covid tests.

England boss Shaun Wane had to postpone naming his team to face the All Stars this morning and also cancel two training sessions given how difficult the selection process has become in light of the pandemic.

They are due to face the All Stars at Halliwell Jones Stadium on Friday June 25 as a key part of the national side’s build-up to the start of the World Cup at the end of the year.

Although appointed in February 2020, it will also be Wane’s first game in charge having seen Covid wipe out last year’s Ashes series.

Hull KR head coach Tony Smith (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)
Hull KR head coach Tony Smith (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

There is a full round of Super League fixtures next weekend with Hull KR facing champions St Helens, Salford Red Devils against Leeds and Hull FC versus Huddersfield Giants all on the actual same evening as the England contest.

Although KR have no England players currently involved in Wane’s squad, they could have plenty of contenders - especially Kiwi centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Australian second-row Kane Linnett - in contention for Tim Sheens’ All Stars.

No more than six players from one club - across both squads - are allowed to take part in the contest but former England coach Smith thinks the fixture itself is increasingly simply not feasible at this time.

Asked if he knew if he had any players in line to play for the All Stars, he said: “I’ve had nothing confirmed.

Hull KR centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who could be in contention for a Combined Nations All Stars place. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

“I hear bits and bobs but nothing official.

“We’ve all good intentions on what it (the game) is about but with what’s going on with Covid, I’m not sure it’s the right time.

“We’re already under strain; I’ve got four guys out (for Friday) including one positive and if we pick up another one (Covid positive), we’ll be really, really skinny in terms of (players).

“I don’t know then, if we can’t field a team because we’re supplying numbers for the All Stars, I just don’t know…

England coach Shaun Wane (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

“The intent of trying to help England prepare is a good one and if we had had a stand-alone weekend for it, then perfect.

“Maybe it fits at the backend of the year rather than smack bang in the middle of the year with a whole lot of congestion of games already.

“Maybe it’s just leading into the World Cup when it actually fits best.”

England’s only other warm-up game is against Fiji at Rochdale on Friday October 15 - just eight days before their World Cup opener against Samoa.

Asked if next week’s England game should be called off, Smith added: “Not called off but just postpone or redirect it to a more appropriate time.

“We’re all under the pump at the moment in terms of either injuries or illness and we’re all nervous about what illness is coming.

“We want to be able to fulfil fixtures. We do. It’s going to be tough on teams, on some more than others.

“Not having the juniors being part of us for so long, it’s hard to call on young people to come in that haven’t prepared for a long time so even that means we’re not in great shape for it.

“We’re all behind it (England v All Stars) in principle but when it comes to the practicality of it, I’m not sure if it quite fits at the moment.”

Smith said he did not know if clubs had the final say on whether their players are released to play for the All Stars.

“I’m presuming - I don’t know - that it’s up to the player,” he added.

“What we’ve been asked as coaches is to support it in spirit and I think we all do.

“Players have got to want to do it. Otherwise there’s nop point.

“They are probably the ones who needed to be asked first: whether they want to play?”

In-form Rovers will see Mikey Lewis, who recently spent time on loan at York City Knights, come in for Milnes when they visit Wigan.

Last week’s postponements were the first Super League fixtures hit by Covid this season but an increase in the infection rate has people worried.

Smith said: “It’s had an effect on us just like it has on just about everybody else and every other team.

“As we said a few weeks ago, once it’s in society, it flies around.

“So far we haven’t been badly affected but it has had some impact.

“It’s going to continue having an impact. This is the concern and worry of our sport and the rules we have within the sport.

“From all reports I’ve read, Covid is part of our society now and likely to be for the next two or three years so how are we going to cope as a sport or how are sports clubs going to live with it over the next coming years?

“It’s something we need to nut out if we are to remain viable as sports and also financially as sports.”

Smith does not believe any of his squad have yet had a vaccine and believes some players will not take it.

He said: “It’s not something you can make compulsory.

“And I know there’s a certain amount of people that would be very, very, very reluctant to take it particularly while it’s still in its infancy and we don’t know the long-term effects of vaccinations.”