Is player welfare being ignored?

Upfront: The League Express Editorial – Mon 14th Sept 2020 

Our hats are tipped to the Castleford Tigers and Hull FC players, who engaged in a brutal Challenge Cup battle on Sunday.

It was, of course, even more commendable, given that fewer than three days earlier they had slugged it out in league action, both competing in tremendously tough games right to the end.

But it was incredibly concerning to see how many players were walking wounded by the end of Sunday’s contest.

Jamie Shaul, Albert Kelly and Ratu Naulago for Hull all ended the game with unplayable injuries, while the same can be said for Grant Millington and Sosaia Feki of Castleford.

Of course, this is Rugby League and injuries are unavoidable, but often you will hear medical staff say how any soft tissue injuries are often a result of fatigue.

So the sight of Kelly pulling up after a sprint, as well as Naulago too, is very worrying indeed.

The reason for this is that in the near future players will be expected to get out on the field three times in seven days on more than one occasion. Clubs fighting on two fronts face the prospect of a game almost once every four days over a nine-week period. That’s before any rearrangements that could come as a result of Covid.

It’s perhaps a drastic outlook but, while we are all incredibly concerned about Covid’s ability to wreck the fixture list, we should be equally concerned that injuries may result in some teams not having 17 players available.

It seems unlikely now, but perhaps not in just a few weeks’ time.

The alarming reality, however, is that while it’s easy to say something needs to be done, it’s much harder to say what should be done.

Games need to be played in a relatively short amount of time. But the welfare of players is seriously under threat.

Daryl Powell scorned his coaching peers, who are against increasing the number of subs, after his side’s defeat on Sunday, saying it is one small way to help.

On the evidence of that game it’s hard to argue with him.

As a sport, we must all show our gratitude to these athletes who are putting their health, and potentially the longevity of their careers, at risk to ensure Rugby League survives.

Perhaps we should do a bit more to look after them, too.

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