Well after penning my first player blog last month I was pleased to see the reception it received, and it clearly got people talking on social media which is the aim – the more discussion and sharing of ideas the better.
We’ve just come through the busiest spell of the Rugby League calendar in Britain – the Easter period – and that’s what I’m going to write about today. Unfortunately, I missed all three games over the Easter period due to injury – I’m hoping to be back and fit this weekend – and while I always love to play the Easter spell is so tough on the players.
It’s well documented from the players in the game that the Easter period isn’t really ideal in terms of preparation for a game. Players are being asked to play, recover, prepare and then perform again in just over 48 hours so it’s really difficult. I mean, as players, we love a challenge but if you look at Easter Monday games I’d say the intensity of games are generally down on that of regular weekly fixtures.
The reason for this is that the turnaround is just too short from Good Friday. These games are often derby games for most clubs, which often increases the physicalintensity and can be draining emotionally compared to non-derby fixtures. Generally, the second day of recovery is the day you’re the sorest to be asked to play again the next day is very demanding.
Over the Easter period we played 3 games in 8 days our 3rd game was against Warrington Wolves. They played their Easter Monday game in treacherous conditions at Castleford Tigers and even we had a wet day at Leeds Rhinos and it does sap quite a bit of energy out of you too.
An additional reason why the fixture pile up needs addressing is for the fans, because they are the ones paying their hard earn money to watch and they want to see the best players on the field. They deserve to watch the most intense, fast and high skilled game we can provide, and they aren’t always guaranteed that due to player fatigue and players being rested as a result of the short turnaround.
On the other hand, from the coach’s point of view they’ve got to do what’s best for their side to ensure they continue to get results in the long-term. You have to ask the question whether the same teams that run out at Easter would do if it was just a one game weekend and I’m not entirely sure because players are always competing with niggles and knocks like dead legs but with four and five days you can get over these injuries but after two days maybe not, it probably effects the integrity of the game in a way with teams having to change the sides so much.
If anything, it’s all about managing the workload because I don’t think we play too many games throughout a season, but I do believe the current Betfred Super League model used by clubs it is too long. I think having a pre season friendlies, a 30-game season and the Challenge Cup – as I mentioned in the last Tyke Talk blog – eats into the time that could be spent on internationals. We could still play around 30 games a season but spread it out better over some more interesting and dynamic competitions rather than just the Betfred Super League. At the moment we might be over using our product too? Do the local derbies mean as much if you play each other 4-5, possibly six times a year?
Again, there does need to be a balancing act in terms of players welfare, but your elite players are always going to end up playing more games – that’s a fact. However, they’re compensated for it with bonuses for international and play-off appearances and I am sure all players would be willing to play more games if there are more rewards. A great example of this is the State of Origin players, I often hear about how origin players back up on the weekend after playing on a Wednesday evening. However these players are withdrawn for the NRL games the previous weekend, so in essence are still only playing in three games over three weeks. Furthermore they are heavily compensated for their involvement in the State of Origin, which was around $30,000 in 2017.
The problem with trying to play 30 games and then an international calendar like we currently do is your then eating into pre-season for the following year and it’s a never-ending cycle from thereon and again preparation for the new season is negatively affected.
It’s not fair that players have to burn the candle at both ends when essentially, they’re always playing and fighting for contracts. Everyone needs to be able to put their best foot forward and this is much easier if players are looked after and aren’t overworked. In addition, we really need to look at eliminating things such as high tackles, spear tackles and crusher tackles to the best of our ability. I’ve had to miss three games as a result of a spear tackle – which I don’t for a second think was malicious – however the player in question was only banned for one. I think the displinary process needs to be strict and consistent on certain indiscretions regardless of a player’s previous disciplinary record, we need to make players understand that certain things are not acceptable in our sport. I may be being a little biased, but player welfare and safety needs to be at the forefront of the sport.
We are extremely lucky to be able to do what we do. We earn money for playing the sport that we love but for a lot of players the pay difference isn’t that much more than some ‘regular’ jobs sometimes players earn less than there earning potential away from the game.  The majority of players will need to seek work following retirement so it’s pivotal we try and remain injury free, and really looking at player welfare and workload, such as the Easter period will aid this.
The last thing we want is to have players retiring and just being disillusioned and detached from the sport because they feel they’ve been mistreated. Look after the players and they’ll stick around and give back to the sport following their retirement. I think a big step in doing this after is adapting the Easter period and having a serious discussion about whether it still belongs in Rugby League in the future.