‘We are failing our players’: Super League under fire for fixture crush
Rugby league’s players’ union says the sport risks failing to properly protect the welfare of participants with Super League clubs facing three games in as little as nine days over the coming week and a half.
Garreth Carvell, the former Great Britain prop who leads the Rugby League Players Association, says the union will do all it can to remove busy fixture periods from the calendar as soon as possible and better protect those taking the field.
With Super League finishing early this year before the Rugby League World Cup, every team will play between Wednesday and Friday this week, before another full round of fixtures on Sunday and bank holiday Monday. That will be followed by the final round of the regular season on 2-3 September. It has led to suggestions that the quality of the playoffs will be affected by such a draining period, with the games before and after the run meaning there are five fixtures to navigate in three weeks.
The RLPA has held talks with clubs and the Rugby Football League about implementing proper periods of rest between fixtures and ensuring scheduling issues – including the congested Easter period, where clubs also play three times in little over a week – are a thing of the past. “We’re supposed to have moved on as a sport,” Carvell said. “But there are teams struggling to put out squads, abandoning training and scraping through game to game.
“We look after our players with things like limiting contact in training, we have stringent return‑to-play protocol for concussion but then all of a sudden, we make them play three times in nine days? It goes against everything we do as a game when it comes to protecting the players.
“The bare minimum we want is that bank holiday games are gone. A minimum five-day rest period between all games. We are failing our players.”
Carvell is hopeful that suggestion could be implemented as early as next season, but concedes it is more likely for 2024. While the Easter period always attracts criticism for the effect it has on players, this second double-header weekend of 2022 is more pertinent given the timing of the season. Super League clubs have suffered badly with injuries this year and many have been unable to name full 21-man squads.
That was the case again last weekend. There are more than 80 players injured in the competition, and clubs such as Hull FC, Hull KR and Catalans Dragons are well into double digits of players that are unavailable.
That means those who are fit will be subjected to more minutes than ever before in such a small space of time, potentially leading to more injuries and fatigue at the most important time of the year.
Privately, there is concern at Super League clubs about how they will be able to get through the period unscathed. The feeling at many clubs is that the third game of the run, the final round of the regular season, will have those not playing for a playoff position fielding reserve sides.
One coach who has gone public is the St Helens head coach Kristian Woolf. “Five games in 20 days sounds like too much because it is too much,” he said. “I’ve mentioned before that we play too many games here.
“The number of short turnarounds and when you couple that with the number of games they play, we put our players in a position of more fatigue and a higher chance of injury.”
There is further concern for the English game beyond the Super League. The National Rugby League does not subject its players to such brutal scheduling, meaning that when the World Cup starts in two months the Australia, New Zealand and Tonga squads will be fresher and fitter than their English counterparts. Shaun Wane’s players, in contrast, will have had to endure a bruising period.
“Coaches will be watching these games through their fingers praying nobody is hurt,” Carvell said. “Are we risking burning our players out just in time for a home World Cup? Shoving more domestic games in for the sake of a few quid through the gate … it seems shortsighted.”