Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott has backed the innovative decision to switch a series of Stobart Super League games to Monday nights this summer.
Sky Sports will move 10 of its Saturday fixtures to the prime-time Monday evening slot to help offset the end of the football season.
Champions Leeds will feature in the first such occasion when they face St Helens at Headingley Carnegie on May 21, kick-off 8pm, and matches will then take place at that time in each of the following nine weeks.
The RFL are yet to confirm the other fixtures – although the last will be St Helens v Warrington on August 6 – which are part of a new five-year deal between Sky and the governing body.
McDermott believes it is a welcome addition to the calendar.
“I think it’s good to try something like this,” he told the Yorkshire Post, after it was announced during the season launch at Old Trafford yesterday.
“I can’t see it hindering too much and should imagine it will go well. I’m sure the crowds will come on a Monday night but it’s a bit like Friday night games; I think you have got to give it a go before people make any judgment.
“The Friday evening fixture has become a real feature of our sport and maybe Monday night could repeat that as well, generating its own sort of atmosphere.
“We’re looking forward to taking part in the first one.”
Sky will stay with their Friday-Saturday formula for the opening three months of the season, starting with tomorrow night’s opening game between promoted Widnes Vikings and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats before Saturday’s contest at Salford’s new stadium where Castleford are the visitors.
But Super League chairman Richard Lewis feels the 10-week mid-season transfer to the start of the week is a sign of the sport’s growing visual appeal.
“The introduction of Super League Mondays on Sky Sports will continue to push the boundaries of the sport as a spectacle on television,” he said.
“Sky Sports have had great success in driving excellent viewing figures for their Monday night coverage especially Premier League football and it is fantastic that they want to showcase the Super League in what sports broadcasters regard as one of the most desirable spots across the globe as we have seen with the NFL in the USA and NRL in Australia.”
Leeds begin the defence of their crown tomorrow night when Hull KR arrive at Headingley.
Such is the strength of their squad, McDermott is able to leave out Grand Final winners Ian Kirke and England ETS member Ben Jones-Bishop with Weller Hauraki, Lee Smith plus new signings Darrell Griffin and Richard Moore all in the 19-man squad.
“I had to give out some bad news (yesterday) which is never easy,” he said. Hull KR, conversely, have real problems with the long-term loss of captain Ben Galea and influential Australian stand-off Blake Green through injury.
“We’ve come through pre-season unscathed but I’m not going to feel guilty about that considering what we had last year.
“If we can say the same after 10 or 20 rounds I’ll be happy.”
Leeds, of course, were missing England captain Jamie Peacock and stand-off Danny McGuire until Easter last season, part of the reason behind their slow start and fifth-place finish,
But McDermott – new to the job 12 months ago – expects his side to be challenging from the off as they attempt to prove their worth as champions.
“We’ve just modified things from last season and not had a wholesale change so, a year down the track, we all know each other a little better.” he said.
“There was a lot of transition this time last year but now we’ve got a bit more cohesion.
“That’s what we’re all getting really excited about – how well we can play and how consistent we can become.”
Regardless of those key injuries, McDermott is wary of under-estimating their opponents who are under the command of a new coach themselves in little-known Australian Craig Sandercock.
“In the long-term, Hull KR will have some issues to address as Ben Galea and Blake Green are two big names,” he said.
“Certainly, every coach in the league rates Galea and he always makes the tip sheets of people to watch out for. However, in the short term, history has proven you can’t take a team lightly just because of a couple of injuries.
“We’re not going to make that mistake. Hull KR, coming to Leeds, on the first day of the season, under a new coach, will be strong.”
Rovers, meanwhile, have been boosted by England ETS centre Kris Welham’s decision to sign a new contract until the end of 2015.
Promising back-row Kyle Trout has done likewise for Wakefield who name 17 new signings for the game at Widnes, Trout and Paul Johnson the only survivors from 2011.