The Garry Schofield Column: Should we put the start of the season back?

I’M CURIOUS as to why the RFL are suggesting a 48-0 win be given to clubs when their opponents can’t fulfil a fixture because of a Covid outbreak.

I know there can be situations where clubs exploit the rules to their advantage, but could there also now be cases where games are played when they shouldn’t be, at the risk of spreading the virus?

The accepted scoreline for an unfulfilled fixture has been 24-0, but it seems the governing body is cracking down, with talk of misconduct charges and sanctions, including compensation payments.

At this stage, it appears to be Super League only, so where does that leave the Championship, League 1 and the Challenge Cup? Will they be playing to different rules?

What is clear is that Covid isn’t going away any time soon and I worry that the situation could be worsened by playing pre-season matches, that’s if they can take place, of course.

I can see a situation where the start of the season is decimated by postponements due to Omicron outbreaks and my suggestion is simple – delay it until late March or early April.

As things stand, the Super League season is just a month away, with the opening match on Thursday, February 10, when St Helens host Catalans. But think about the predictions that cases are going to rise.

We could well be in an even worse situation than we are now – I really can’t see it getting any better over such a short timescale – so why not push the season back?

Of course, it still has to end in time for the rescheduled World Cup to take place this Autumn, and let’s keep everything crossed that we are more on top of Covid by then.

But why can’t we cut four rounds from the scheduled 27? Many people complain about the so-called ‘loop’ fixtures in any case, and we could still have teams playing each other home and away, plus Magic Weekend.

Some might complain about losing matches, and I know there is an even greater need for revenue, given the last couple of seasons, but only Wigan played every scheduled match in 2021.

With things as they are at the moment, we could end up with as many, or even more, matches called off this year, but by having our own ‘circuit breaker’, we could put ourselves in a stronger position.

Platitudes, platitudes

We were given a great lesson in how to say a lot without really saying anything by Ralph Rimmer as he proclaimed in last week’s League Express: “Much to anticipate in 2022.”

The message felt more Groundhog Day than New Year’s Day, because other than telling us what we already knew via a calendar of this year’s events, there was precious little about the big issues the game is facing.

We’ve had Ian Lenagan, Gary Hetherington and Ken Davy all giving us a ticking off over supposed negativity. Now we have the RFL chief executive talking about positivity and optimism but not giving us any detail of why we should share his feelings.

It’s the same old, especially about realignment of Super League and the RFL, with claims of a “new mood of co-operation” and back-slapping about how hard everyone involved is working and how much they are trying.

“We are not over the line yet, but we are close,” said Ralph, as he bandied about phrases like “exciting announcements” which should put our game on “a completely new trajectory”.

It’s been nine months since Robert Elstone left Super League, yet here we are, still waiting for some concrete information on how, and when, we will get back to one governing body.

And with the Challenge Cup due to begin this weekend, we’re told a “major focus” is on getting a full house of almost 60,000 into the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for this year’s final.

How about looking even further ahead and thinking of ways of getting more than 70,000 into Wembley in 2023, given the last time that happened was for the Hull-Warrington final of 2016?

How many out of ten?

Never mind a ten from Len, it could be a six or seven – or perhaps a two or three – from me this season.

As ever, I’ll be taking in every televised Super League game, starting with the Grand Final rematch between St Helens and Catalans Dragons on Thursday, February 10 – if it goes ahead amid the ongoing Covid issues I’ve already talked about, that is.

Will Saints start their bid for a fourth straight title with a two-point haul?

Or will star signing Mitchell Pearce, a player who, as I said last week, I’m really looking forward to seeing in white, red and gold and who I believe will turn out to be the 2022 Man of Steel, lead Steve McNamara’s men on revenge mission after their 12-10 defeat at Old Trafford back in October?

I’ll rate Pearce’s debut performance, plus those of every other player on the pitch, in my column in the Monday, February 14 issue of League Express.

And while that might be Valentine’s Day, there will be nothing soft and slushy about my assessments, just an honest view, which readers are of course entitled to agree with, or slate!

I’ll be doing the same for other top-flight matches shown by Sky and Channel 4, who will be broadcasting ten games live, starting with Leeds versus Warrington on Saturday, February 12, under their new agreement with Super League.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how they handle the coverage, and no doubt giving my verdict on that as well.

It’s all about opinions after all.

Like father, like son?

I’ve read quite a lot about Jack Sinfield since he helped Leeds beat Wakefield on Boxing Day.

Of course, it’s very early to be forming any firm opinions on the 17-year-old son of Kevin.

But he seems to be a good prospect, and Richard Agar, who works with Jack on a regular basis, certainly felt confident enough to put him in the Headingley spotlight, having promoted him to the first-team squad for the forthcoming season.

Jack’s surname means there will inevitably be a fair old weight of expectation on his young shoulders and there will be no escaping comparisons with his dad.

But looking to the rival code, Owen Farrell and George Ford have both done okay for themselves, while in football, Frank Lampard outdid his father, who was a decent player himself.

There’s nothing Jack can do about his family line, and I hope that going forward, he will be judged on his own merits.

He’s certainly in a good environment at Leeds, and is being guided by some good, experienced and knowledgeable people.

And the fact that Kevin is now working in rugby union, and seemingly doing a top job as defence coach at Leicester, could well be helpful.

He will be around to offer constructive criticism and advice, as any father would, but with him no longer being at Headingley, other than making the odd visit, Jack can crack on with far fewer suggestions of nepotism being bandied about.

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