TWO-TIME Super League Grand Final winning coach Tony Smith has hailed the competition’s decision to discard the much-maligned Easter Monday fixture as a “real positive” for the sport.
The 2020 fixture list is revealed today and it has been confirmed that the traditional Easter double-header has at last disappeared.
For decades, clubs have played on Good Friday – or Maundy Thursday – and again on Easter Monday as, among other reasons, they seek to financially make the best of the holiday period.
However, playing a sport as arduous as rugby league twice in such quick succession is littered with issues, not least when it comes to player welfare, a rise in injuries and also an obvious drop-off in quality in the second game.
READ MORE - Castleford Tigers 2020 fixtures
I knew once there were some changes in our sport – and how it’s run – that we would see sense in it. There’s the welfare issues for the players and how to get the best out of them and the most out of them while always considering their safety.Hull KR head coach, Tony Smith
READ MORE - Huddersfield Giants 2020 fixtures
READ MORE – Hull FC 2020 fixtures
READ MORE – Hull KR 2020 fixtures
READ MORE – Leeds Rhinos’ 2020 fixtures
READ MORE – Wakefield Trinity 2020 fixtures
Moreover, the cost of that hectic scheduling can often carry over into the following weekend, too, and, invariably, there are plenty of lopsided results during the ten or 11 days of madness.
Hull KR chief Smith, who won two titles with Leeds Rhinos and coached both England and Great Britain, has been a long-term campaigner for ditching the controversial Easter programme.
The Australian, 52, is delighted to see that common sense has finally prevailed.
“I was always hopeful this would happen,” said Smith, whose playing career ended at Workington Town during Super League’s inaugural season of 1996.
“And I knew once there were some changes in our sport – and how it’s run – that we would see sense in it.
“There’s the welfare issues for the players and how to get the best out of them and the most out of them while always considering their safety.
“And it’s not always about more; sometimes it’s about having better. Less (games) can sometimes produce a better product.
“I’ve got no doubt it will have a positive effect on players and how they play over the season but also the number of injuries we see.
“I’m not sure how they’ve managed it (in terms of fitting in the fixture elsewhere) but I’m just grateful they have got rid of Easter Monday and it’s a real positive for rugby league.”
Castleford Tigers captain Michael Shenton echoed Smith’s sentiments and spoke for many players when he said it was “about time” the fixture was jettisoned.
The experienced centre, 33, has not played since injuring his ankle against Catalans Dragons on – ironically – Easter Monday.
“From before I even started playing it’s been an issue in the game,” said the former England international.
“Players and coaches alike have wanted rid of it for a long time. I know some of the clubs will like the revenue the Monday game brings in and fans might like it, too, but for us this is a good thing.
“As players, when it comes to that Monday game, we’ve always been told we just have to get our heads right and get on with it as there’s nothing that can be done.
“But there’s so much to consider when you’re trying to deal with it. We were going through an injury crisis this year and picked up some pretty nasty injuries over Easter.
“Some are just a freak of nature and unfortunate. I think mine was one of those. It was a trauma injury. But I’ve definitely seen plenty of other players suffer hamstring and calf issues and that is purely down to fatigue.”
Shenton is a firm believer that Super League’s quality will also now improve.
“People talk about the drop in quality on Easter Monday but also the week after, which is not what you want coming into the summer months,” he added.
“As the grounds harden up, you want to see the game speeding up with high levels of skill, not going the other way.
“Hopefully, we’ll get that now.”
The new-look Easter programme will see six fixtures span four days with Leeds kicking things off against Wakefield Trinity on Thursday, April 9 (7.45pm).
KR host Hull FC in their traditional Good Friday derby (12.30pm) before Wigan Warriors visit champions St Helens (2.45pm).
Catalans Dragons entertain Toronto Wolfpack on Easter Saturday (5.15pm) – the only game of the six not televised live by Sky Sports – when Warrington Wolves also host Salford Red Devils (3pm).
Finally, in a break from the norm, Castleford welcome Huddersfield Giants on Easter Sunday (3pm).
Super League chief commercial officer Rhodri Jones said the “new feel to Easter” appreciates the “tough nature of Super League on the players.”
The competition will start with Wigan hosting Warrington on Thursday January 30 before the first-ever Super League double header at Emerald Headingley.
That sees Rhinos face Hull on Sunday February 2 (4.45pm) in a game that follows the eagerly-anticipated Super League debut of Toronto who begin life in the elite against Castleford Tigers (2.30pm) in Leeds as one of their ‘on the road games.’