How keeping ball in play could have eased hectic schedule - Dave Craven on rugby league

IT has suddenly gone from feast to famine with Betfred Super League and it seems such a crying shame.

Hull KR coach Tony Smith: Enforced break. Picture: SWPix.
Hull KR coach Tony Smith: Enforced break. Picture: SWPix.

There are no fixtures this weekend with the only domestic rugby league game being today’s Coral Challenge Cup sixth round tie between Wakefield Trinity and Catalans Dragons.

After five months of lockdown and everyone playing catch-up, it seems surreal that can be the case just three weeks after the league competition finally restarted.

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To see nine clubs now sat doing nothing is certainly unfortunate especially given we all know the strenuous demands being placed on players later down the line.

Admittedly, it is hard to blame Super League or the RFL; the Covid situation is changing by the day and the sport has been hit particularly hard especially after the wrecking-ball effect of the outbreak at Hull FC.

Initially, the Black and Whites were also supposed to be in Cup action today against Castleford Tigers as part of a live BBC televised double-header at the John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield.

However, once the severity of the situation at Hull was discovered – nine players tested positive in total plus three members of staff – it was inevitable their next two fixtures would need to be postponed.

Still, Super League clubs managed to get their heads together at short notice to quickly redraft last weekend’s fixture list within a matter of hours.

It is a pity – and surprising somewhat – that they could not do likewise for this weekend given they essentially had eight days to do so. Granted, broadcast issues come into play; Sky were not due to cover games this weekend and it is not a simple or cheap task to get a series of games up and running for live television purposes with barely a week’s notice.

Their schedules will have been in place, too, and, even if they did opt to broadcast, it would not have helped anyone in the sport if they had directly gone up against the Beeb’s coverage of the Challenge Cup.

Nevertheless, tomorrow may have been possible, even if it comprised just two games at one of the bio-secure venues and was not televised. It is far from ideal but it would have eased the burden for some in October when the games are coming so thick and fast. Hull KR, in particular, must be aggrieved; because of the vagaries of the ‘original’ fixture list, they will have played just once in four weeks by the time they resume against St Helens next Sunday evening.

Tony Smith’s side were down to play Toronto Wolfpack twice before the Canadian franchise’s sudden withdrawal from the competition left KR kicking their heels so their only fixture since March has been the 40-10 loss to Warrington a fortnight ago.

How they would have loved to tackle someone this weekend and, similarly, Castleford who – having performed so well in Sunday’s narrow defeat to Saints – now have two successive weekends off as they were supposed to play Toronto next Saturday.

Looking at the ‘ball in play’ figures since Super League returned under new rules (six again/no scrums), it is understandable why so many coaches are labelling it a ‘new game’.

The stats are staggering and up considerably in some instances since lockdown, even to a figure of 70 minutes for one Catalans match.

Clubs will play three games in just eight days at least twice this autumn. That is painful at any time. But especially when there is no ball in play at all this weekend.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson