Written by John Davidson
Photo by Leeds Rhinos
“Easter’s been in the English game a long time now, so you have to respect tradition. I always do. But sometimes it’s going to come to a point where the duty of the player is really important…. They’re seriously going to have to look at it.”
That was the take of Warrington coach Steve Price after his team smashed Hull KR by 48-points on Monday.
Easter was a mixed bag for Price and the Wolves with a shock loss to Salford on Good Friday, and then a huge win three days later at the KCOM Stadium.
Results aside, it’s archaic that Super League still subjects its players to 160 minutes of on-field action with just full two days in between to recover. People talk about player welfare in the UK, but really it’s just a buzz word. A token term.
Players have no rights, no representation at decision-making level and there is little concern about how they really fare.
If there was, they wouldn’t be put through the ringer every Easter without fail. This holiday period is great for fans and great for the clubs, who generally post big crowds with more supporters flocking to games on public holidays. The good weather helps too.
But at what cost? How many players have to get injured before we say enough is enough? How many do we have to crock?
We all know Super League players are bigger, faster and stronger than ever before. They train full-time, they go through arduous training programs and take all the right supplements to get their bodies primed. They then go out on the field and bash the hell out of each other for our amusement.
To make them do it all again, without enough time for them to fully recover, seems like madness. It’s short-sighted and hurts our best property – the on-field talent. The one thing fans turn up at stadiums and turn on their TVs to watch.
No one really wants to come out and criticise the Easter program, coach or player. No one wants to be seen as a whinger and generally they just get on with it.
As Price said: “With the speed of the game, which has grown over the last three months, and the amount of football you play over the year it’s quite taxing on the body.
“They’re seriously going to have a look at it. But you’ve just got to get the gloves on, punch on, jab away.”
Hull KR coach Tim Sheens was exactly the same. In the defeat he lost Mitch Garbutt in the warm-up while Tommy Lee was forced from the field during the game. The injury list at the Robins is mounting fast.
Sheens was also reluctant to attack the crowd Easter fixture program.
“I’m a relative Johnny-come-lately as far as the competition’s concerned over here, so it’s not for me to kick off about it too much,” he said.
“Everyone’s got to go through it. It’s the same as the conditions on the field, both teams have to go through it. But it is very difficult for the groups.
“If you’ve not got a big squad, and your squad is a bit broken at the time it’s a disaster for you going through that. You’ve just got to hope that you’re fairly healthy and that you don’t get too many injuries on either day.
“Both days we’ve come away with enough injury to worry me about next week. To me, Easter doesn’t finish until the end of the next round.
“Bounce out of two games into next week – it’s three games in 14 or 15 days isn’t it and that’s the killer. It’s not until the week after when you start to get a little bit of a break in between your games again.”
The chance of players getting injured on Easter Monday, or in the following round, is high. Playing three games in a nine-day period is unfair. It’s the equivalent of Super League shooting itself in the foot, working its players so hard they break.
Eventually, you would hope, common sense has to prevail.
Yes, playing two matches over Easter is part of UK tradition. But traditions change, they evolve over time and can be improved. Look at slavery, or women’s rights or workplace standards, thankfully they have been changed or scrapped entirely over time.
Tradition shouldn’t be an obstacle to progress. We shouldn’t beholden to it to make the players, and therefore, the product, suffer.