Pre-season is now well underway – well, it is for some clubs, at least.
This pre-season seems to be one of the quietest yet – not for transfers, mind, but more in terms of games played by teams. There’s a number of reasons for that, but two are standing out in particular.
The weather is wreaking havoc with clubs and their preparations for the new season, and that’s something that just can’t be prevented.
A number of fixtures have been called off due to falling victim to the cold, snowy weather over the last couple of weeks, with a fair chunk of Super League sides seeing their games falling by the wayside.
Huddersfield saw their game against Halifax called off two weeks ago but didn’t want to have the game during a midweek. Salford’s clash against Featherstone succumbed to the weather, and a clutch of sides haven’t even played a single friendly yet.
That’s the other big reason for pre-season being so quiet; teams just don’t seem as keen to play friendly matches anymore. The extension in the season – 30 (THIRTY!) regular season games – means that teams will not bust a gut in pre-season and flog themselves in January.
Castleford, for example, haven’t even kicked or passed a ball in anger yet. Dipping into the Championship, nor have Bradford. Hull KR coach Chris Chester said from the word go that they’d only play two friendlies to ensure they didn’t burn out too early.
Chester, in fact, said this back in October – admitting that he felt three friendlies was “overkill”:
Teams used to play a lot earlier than they did in the past, but these days you’ll see clubs will only play two or three friendlies at most. Will that mean teams are slightly underdone when the season gets going?
It’ll be tough to gauge whether that’s actually the case until we can compare back to the beginning of the season midway through the campaign.
But it’s hard to imagine any team firing on all cylinders until a few weeks into the season. A wider question here though is this: has the longer season meant that clubs are finding pre-season friendlies less and less relevant?
There’s plenty of time to get going and hit form, especially if the primary aim is just to make the top eight in either Super League or the Championship.
Friendlies used to be a firm and important part of the calendar – but the more postponements and reduction in games we see as the years roll on, you sort of get the feeling it’ll be less and less important.
Whether clubs are undercooked or not remains to be seen. It’s fair to say there’s a fair chance that could be the case.