What are the chances of any amateur Rugby League games being played during October and November, as the Rugby Football League hopes?
“Who can say?” is, I suppose, the answer.
The RFL gave the go-ahead for training with increased contact (essentially tackling from the waist down) to take place with effect from last Monday, as the next stage towards its target of friendly matches being played next month.
A snapshot of the experience so far of National Conference League clubs elicited a mixed reaction. Indeed it may be telling, insofar as the general mood these days is concerned, that only three responded.
Of those, Dewsbury Moor Maroons appear to be as positive as it’s possible to be over the prospects, and Hunslet Warriors similarly so.
Siddal (pictured in Challenge Cup action against Newcastle Thunder), however, advised that they are taking their 2020 calendar down off the wall and are building towards next year. I suspect that many other clubs have, or are coming, to the same conclusion.
The Halifax outfit’s reply, and the lack of answers from all other clubs, is perhaps understandable in all the circumstances, given that the National Conference League spelt out recently that it will not attempt to resume this year and is focusing instead on the next campaign, which is due to commence in March.
Meanwhile the Welsh Rugby League confirmed, last week, that it has cancelled amateur Rugby League, including the Wheelchair form, in 2020.
A benefit of the understandable stances of Wales RL and the NCL is that everyone knows where they stand, even if it’s not where anyone wants to be.
An unfortunate consequence of the RFL doing its utmost to secure a return of action is inevitable confusion, given the ‘moveable feast’ that are government guidelines. I wrote earlier that only three NCL clubs replied to me. That wasn’t quite correct. Four actually got in touch, the last with a linked but separate query.
My caller was struggling to understand why clubhouses are allowed to open for such as funerals while the RFL has now advised clubs that, if and when games take place, players must return home for their showers before coming back for their beer and baps.
Ever the realist, he couldn’t see those players returning, or possibly even showing up for matches in the first place. And he wondered why such as soccer and rugby union are, by contrast, being allowed to entertain players post-match.
It seems that he was wrong on that last assertion. As the RFL’s Director of Participation and Development, Marc Lovering, has pointed out, all sports are subject to the same regulations, so those other two football codes are in exactly the same position as Rugby League. Or they should be.
It doesn’t sit too well, though, that people who may have nothing at all to do with the clubs involved, or even with Rugby League, will be allowed to use those clubs’ facilities while the folk who are ultimately those organisations’ ‘raison d’etre’ – the players – will not be able to do so in the way that so many of us have done for well over a century.
It could be, according to one school of thought, that there are concerns that players’ clothing could become infected in the high temperatures and close quarters of dressing rooms.
I think we all have to accept, and to a degree live with, the reality that those who are having to make decisions centrally are having to act swiftly, in unprecedented circumstances, and that any regulations they impose on all sports – indeed, on all walks of life – can have unintended and unfortunate consequences.
Perhaps, albeit tongue in cheek, one solution could be to arrange games around funerals or birthday parties (with social distancing observed, of course)?
There could also be confusion on the field of play, as and when fixtures resume, given experiences in Betfred Super League games.
Stu Prentice of Bradford has been in touch with me with a heartfelt lament, asking: “As an avid Rugby League fan, amateur player in the past and coach, can I ask when are the powers that be going to speak out on the hypocrisy relating to celebrating a try?
“Now you can only fist-pump? You can drench each other in blood, sweat and tears, gang tackle, breathe on each other etc. But DO NOT shake hands or jump on each other?”
He continued: “This is no pop at you at all, but with you being in the media when is someone going to bring this up?
“This is laughable. Please can someone tell us the difference in tackling and celebrating. Or does Covid only attack you when you celebrate?”
Stu concluded: “When is someone going to stand up and cover this charade of nonsense?”
Job done, Stu – I’ll ask the RFL to get back on this during the week. More in next week’s column on what really is becoming a moveable feast.
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