OPINION: Is the fixture scheduling harming Super League’s undoubted appeal?

Friday night’s televised game between St Helens and Wakefield has the makings of a cracker: but it’s just a shame that half the league’s supporters won’t even get the chance to see it live.

Robert Elstone won’t thank people for putting more concerns and more issues on his desk while he’s still getting his feet underneath it, but Super League has again booked itself into a pretty uncompromising corner with the fixture scheduling this weekend – on multiple fronts.

It’s not uncommon these days to see a completely Super League-free Sunday – something which I’m sure most people would agree is not a good thing.

For the competition to gain maximum exposure in the mainstream media and beyond, there needs to be games on as many days as possible. That includes Thursdays – but more on that particular timeslot later.

And with no Super League on Sunday again this week, it means there are a whopping four games – two thirds of the competition’s fixtures – played on one single night this evening.

There are two points to raise here. One, you wonder how the broadcasters and the number crunchers feel about having fans of Hull FC, Hull KR, Warrington and more driven away from their own televised fixture this evening to watch their own team play. There’s little doubting that with only one, or two, games played on a Friday night, the viewing figures would be much, much higher.

But there’s also the very real problem of having a four-game Friday when you’re trying to showcase Super League on as many different occasions as possible. Hull FC v Widnes, Hull KR v Huddersfield and Warrington v Salford are afterthoughts to the casual viewer this evening: that really shouldn’t be the case at all.

Of course, some games are moved to allow teams to have a slightly longer turnaround ahead of playing the following Thursday – and a glance ahead to next week’s Thursday fixture, Huddersfield v Hull FC, understandably rules them out of playing any later than Friday.

But Warrington v Salford? Couldn’t that have been moved to the Sunday slot this week to allow the sport to grab some column inches and attention? The situation is even more pertinent when you factor in the football World Cup swallowing up almost all of the coverage on TV, radio and in newspaper – but with a break until England’s next game, Super League could have seized the opportunity.

Thursday nights are great and offer fans some great entertainment to start their weekend away, but to remain in the calendar, they have to be done properly. That was not on display this Thursday, unfortunately.

The first rule of Thursday night rugby league should be simple: no trans-Pennine games whatsoever. Sure, Leeds are underperforming at the moment, but there would have been far more Rhinos fans making the journey along the M62 if the game had not been played on a school night, as it were.

The schedulers need to get smart and stick to strictly games where away fans don’t have to do much travelling. Think St Helens v Warrington, Castleford v Huddersfield.. you could go on and on. Just not Widnes v Hull or Wigan v Leeds.

All of these are simple enough tweaks which will bring the best out of the product we’ve got on both television and on the whole. Nobody wants to see blank weekends without any Super League during the year. One game Thursday, one or two Friday, one Saturday and at least one on Sundays. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?