Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston has a succinct two-word answer for anyone questioning his refusal to delay next month’s Championship clash at Halifax by a day to allow fans into The Shay: “Player welfare.”
Under the government roadmap for easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions, limited numbers of spectators are due to be allowed into sporting events from Monday, May 17 as long as the relevant local authority public health chiefs agree.
Four Super League matches – Castleford v Hull KR, Leigh v Wigan, St Helens v Salford and Warrington v Huddersfield – have been put back from the preceding days to take advantage of the change in regulations, as have the Bradford versus Newcastle and Swinton versus Dewsbury Championship clashes.
Halifax wanted to follow suit, but a change to the date of a fixture will only be considered by the RFL if both clubs agree, and the West Yorkshire side revealed that Sheffield had rejected their request.
“Fans will be aware and quite rightly asking whether the fixture against Sheffield Eagles, scheduled for May 16, can be delayed by 24 hours to allow fans to attend in person,” said Halifax in a statement on their club website.
“Several other clubs have already mutually agreed to move fixtures to allow fans to return as soon as possible.
“The board can confirm that our request to the team at Sheffield Eagles for such a delay has been rejected and as such will not be able to be rescheduled for the benefit of our loyal supporters.
“Even though many of our players would have been disadvantaged by playing on a working day, we recognised that we are a fans-first club and all involved would have gladly seen the switch occur.”
Sheffield stalwart Aston defended his club’s position, and told League Express: “We are 100 per cent with the fans, and we want to see them back in grounds as much as any club.
“But the players are the most important people to consider, and we won’t simply pay lip service to the question of their welfare. It is paramount.
“They have gone through a huge amount in the last twelve months to get us to the stage we are at now in terms of playing matches again.
“The physical strain players are under is shown by the number of injuries we have seen throughout the game.
“Particularly at our level, when players are part-time and were unable to train as a team for so much of last year, being able to prepare and recover as well as possible is crucial, and we need as long as we can get between each match.
“Playing on a weekday impacts on the time available to recover, train and prepare for the following weekend’s match, and especially at this early stage of the competition’s return, if it can be avoided, it should be.
“It’s up to each club to make their own decisions on this. This is our decision, and this is why we have taken it.”
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