It's worth losing Leeds Rhinos players to restart playing says Featherstone Rovers boss

Promotion and crowds will be two crucial factors in deciding if the Betfred Championship resumes this year, Featherstone Rovers coach James Webster believes.

Super League is expected to return in the summer, with matches initially played behind closed doors.

There are concerns lower division clubs will not be able to afford the cost of paying players and staff, while not receiving matchday income.

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And speculation promotion to the top-flight might be scrapped for this year has added to Championship worries over whether the 2020 season is viable.

James Webster. Picture by Simon Hulme.James Webster. Picture by Simon Hulme.
James Webster. Picture by Simon Hulme. | jpimedia

Webster, whose side have not played since a Coral Challenge Cup win over Hunslet on March 13, admitted more information is needed.

“I haven’t been involved in conversations behind the scenes and I don’t know how much depends on Super League and funding and furlough,” he said.

“But I think it is pretty clear in the Championship that unless there is promotion and relegation and unless you can play with crowds, some of those clubs are nervous about playing.

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“As soon as that gets resolved everyone will have a clearer picture.

Rovers reached last year's Betfred Championship Grand Final before losing to Toronto Wolfpack. Picture by Vaughn Ridley/SWpix.com)Rovers reached last year's Betfred Championship Grand Final before losing to Toronto Wolfpack. Picture by Vaughn Ridley/SWpix.com)
Rovers reached last year's Betfred Championship Grand Final before losing to Toronto Wolfpack. Picture by Vaughn Ridley/SWpix.com) | freelance

“I don’t think anyone will have a clear picture at all until they decide about promotion and relegation.

“I am glad I have got nothing to do with that, it is a really tough one for a lot of different people.

“Once they have decided on that, we will see how much of an appetite clubs have to start again.”

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Webster - who has been placed on furlough, along with Rovers’ players - reckons permitting crowds, but limiting their size, would be a possible way back for the Championship.

Leeds Rhinos' Callum McLelland, pictured in a pre-season game between the partner clubs, has plauyed for Rovers on dual-registration. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.Leeds Rhinos' Callum McLelland, pictured in a pre-season game between the partner clubs, has plauyed for Rovers on dual-registration. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Leeds Rhinos' Callum McLelland, pictured in a pre-season game between the partner clubs, has plauyed for Rovers on dual-registration. Picture by Bruce Rollinson. | jpimedia

He added: “If you can get crowds and promotion and relegation there is no reason not to start.

“You don’t need the crowds Super League get.

“If the government are able to put limits on crowds which are quite low, that might be a game-changer for the Championship.

“Obviously Leeds wouldn’t be able to manage on [a limit of] 3,000, but Championship clubs could.

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“At the moment, I am like everyone else - I am just waiting to hear.

“We have been doing our risk assessments on how to safely come back to training and what we need to comply with.”

This year’s Championship Grand Final winners are due to be promoted, in place of the 12th-placed Super League team.

Rovers lost to Toronto Wolfpack in the 2019 title decider and are unbeaten in all competitions this season.

“I don’t think there will be relegation,” Webster said.

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“I think it all depends on how much integrity the competition has.

“If it has got some integrity about it, then there should be [promotion].

“That’s the main one, trying to get a competition that has some credibility and some impetus about it.”

Rovers make regular use of Leeds Rhinos’ fringe players as part of a dual-registration agreement between the clubs.

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With Super League’s revised fixture list set to include a series of midweek matches, Leeds boss Richard Agar is likely to make full use of his squad, including some who have been gaining experience at Featherstone.

Asked if that will have a bearing on Rovers, Webster admitted: “Massive, but that’s just the way it is.

“Would I take us playing over our squad being stretched a bit?

“100 per cent, but the more games Leeds play the less chance we have of picking up people from them.

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“That’s just common sense, but saying that, there’s a couple of youngsters we haven’t used yet and I’d have no hesitation using those players.”

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