Price to be paid and compromises made if rugby league is to survive – Dave Craven

No games. No Game.

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Granted, it is a brutally simplistic summation of Covid-19’s potential effect on rugby league yet there is no denying it.

As troubled administrators, club owners and chief executives, do their utmost to navigate their way through the ongoing shutdown, inevitably attention has turned to what might happen when everyone does finally get playing again.

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It is almost certain the season will be extended but some ideas more than others have caused particular consternation.

UNDER FIRE: Leeds Rhinos' chief executive Gary Hetherington. Picture: James Hardisty

For example, Leeds Rhinos CEO Gary Hetherington came in for heavy criticism when he declared hoping there would be “no whingeing” about player welfare issues when, he says, clubs inevitably end up having to play three games per week.

The subsequent barrage was perhaps understandable; rugby league is often preaching about how it cannot put its players under such pressures.

Indeed, this year they had finally got rid of the second Easter fixture which has caused so much distress for so many decades.

However, in Hetherington’s defence, these are not normal times. Far from it. Everybody is having to make sacrifices, across the globe and in all walks of life, with job losses, furloughing and wage cuts occurring everywhere.

ALTERNATIVE PLAN: Toronto Wolfpack's head coach Brian McDermott. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

Of course it is not ideal that players might have to squeeze in games in such a manner but few people are working in ideal situations any more.

Granted, Hetherington could perhaps have phrased his comments slightly better but the essence of what he said was right.

For those who feel he is purely concerned about making money, it is more the base need to keep his club alive; people cannot lose sight of this – the sport could die if solutions are not found.

Moreover, Hetherington has shown throughout his five decades in the sport that embracing rugby league is in his blood.

That’s whether starting Sheffield Eagles from scratch, helping transform Leeds when they were on the brink, taking such a keen interest in paying respect to the sport’s history, promoting its benefits or – as his regular appearances at Castleford attest – simply going along to watch games.

He has his critics but there is nothing selfish about Hetherington’s comments in this instance.

When it comes down to it, Sky want to see a return on their investment – they are not immune to the effects of this pandemic – and they will demand a certain number of games are played.

Rugby league will, inevitably, have to get games on, perhaps not three times per week but at least that number over nine or 10 days.

To aid matters, then, it would be common sense to cancel the Reserve Grade campaign this season in order to help clubs manage the workloads on their players when the season does resume.

Squad rotation will be key and, while clearly the quality of some contests will drop, it is a price the sport must pay in these unique circumstances simply to keep itself alive and breathing.

Players may not like it but they will understand, just as I did when, like many colleagues, I took a pay cut this week with others being furloughed.

It seems all Super League players are essentially now furloughed and, when it comes to the crunch, if it meant that situation continued with no games, or they could return on something near full pay but play midweek, most would choose the latter.

Nothing is off the table but compromises must be made. If not, theGame will perish.