The Garry Schofield Column: Will clubs accept fewer matches to protect players?

I see Garreth Carvell is calling for an end to the so-called double-headers in Super League.

Hull hosted Toulouse on Sunday, while the other ten teams are in Bank Holiday action today (Monday, August 29) – just days after the 25th round of matches.

The same thing happened over Easter, when there were two sets of fixtures in five days, and Garreth, who heads the Rugby League Players’ Association, the latest of several such groups, has reportedly had his say to IMG as they continue to consider the game’s future direction.

Garreth says he told IMG there are too many matches, with international players turning out “nearly 40 times”, and that double-headers must stop. He claims that fewer fixtures would lead to an improvement in quality.

It got me thinking about my own playing days, when the number of games successful sides had over a campaign were often in the mid-forties.

In my second season in Hull’s first team, 1984/85, we played three times in three days, away to Wigan on a Friday and at Workington on the Saturday and at home to Hunslet on the Sunday.

We’d also had a home match against Bradford on the previous Wednesday, then played them at Odsal on the following Tuesday, making it a run of five matches in seven days.

And remember, we were part-time players whose post-match refuelling was pies and pints rather than pasta and energy drinks.

Whatever full-time athletes, who have much more help in terms of body science, may think about the number of games they are asked to play, the fact remains that the people pulling the strings are those running the clubs, just as they were in my day.

I’ve come across my fair share of directors and chief executives, and had a good few ding-dongs, and they almost always get their own way.

Let’s be honest, the game is skint, and their argument is that they need to play enough matches to get enough income to run their clubs (and broadcasters paying to screen games would also complain at getting less for their money).

I suspect that if there are fewer fixtures, they’d say ‘fair enough, if you play less, we’ll have to pay you less’.

If IMG do take the side of the players, they’ll have to be very persuasive to talk round the clubs.

Of course, the folk who really matter most in all of this are supporters, because if no one wants to go through the gate, or watch on screen, then there’s no way a professional sport can be sustained.

It’s paramount IMG talk to fans, so it’s good to see that they have now been given the chance to complete a questionnaire.

Rhinos on the charge

As a proud former Leeds captain, and now a supporter, I’m delighted to see how fortunes on the field have changed, and I’m hoping Rohan Smith and the team can push on and seal a play-off place.

Looking back at the table when he arrived, Leeds had only seven points, and a top-six finish looked out of the question. But here we are with them lying in fifth place before the game against Catalans in France today (Monday, August 29) on the back of six successive wins and eight in nine, the last of them against Huddersfield on Wednesday.

It’s quite a turnaround, and you have to ask why the players weren’t performing under Richard Agar, because they haven’t suddenly grown an extra arm.

Whatever went on, Richard is getting ready to take up the assistant coaching role at New Zealand Warriors, while Leeds could yet make their mark in the play-offs under his successor, and fair play to Rohan for the job he’s done so far.

He’s got some great results, and he’s also got his side playing as if they are enjoying themselves, and that’s a big thing.

They also have the benefit of a reliable goalkicker in Rhyse Martin, and you can’t underestimate the value of being able to turn four points into six on a regular basis, as we saw against Huddersfield.

The Giants, of course, are assured of a play-off place, and with a Challenge Cup final appearance under their belts, it’s been an encouraging year for them.

But Ian Watson will surely be a little concerned over their difficulty in turning possession deep in opposition territory into points because they had plenty of promising field position at Headingley but scored only three tries.

Murphy the rising star

Well done to Wakefield winger Lewis Murphy on getting a call-up by England Knights alongside fellow new faces, Huddersfield forwards Owen Trout and Oliver Wilson, for games against France B and the full Scotland team in October.

While the Giants pair have both played internationally at Academy level, Lewis has burst onto the scene this season, having come through an Academy that has produced some really good players down the years.

Most of them have hit the heights after moving on to other clubs, and there’s no doubt Trinity face a battle to keep hold of their latest young prospect.

Speaking of Wakefield wingers, I’d like to give a mention to Lee Kershaw, who has also played his part in his club’s recent climb away from the foot of the table towards safety.

Lee knows were the try-line is, as we saw when Hull KR were beaten on Thursday, but he also catches the eye in taking the ball forward in the style of Huddersfield’s master, Jermaine McGillvary.

And he plays the game as though he is really enjoying himself, which is great to see.

He has had to be patient. He has had a few loan spells at Oldham, and I remember reading about him taking a job as a delivery driver during the pandemic to help make ends meet.

Hopefully he can now carry on focusing on his rugby.

Bradford face a long struggle

It’s 17 years since Bradford clinched the last of their four titles in the summer era – they went on to beat Wests Tigers for a third World Club Challenge success – and eight since they dropped out of Super League.

Will they ever get back to the top flight? It’s hard to see.

I attended the recent home game against Whitehaven, and I have to say it was a disheartening experience.

There were 2,670 there, not a bad figure in the Championship but a far cry from days of old, and they endured a dismal game, which Whitehaven won 12-4.

It was a tough watch, and I had to ponder what must have been going through the mind of Brian Noble, who is back at the club where he enjoyed such success as both player and coach, now as a consultant.

I feel for the fans, an admirable number of whom have remained loyal, because without a sugar daddy – and given the club’s current difficulties and the millstone which is the vast and crumbling Odsal, where is one of those going to come from? – it’s very hard to see a way back to Super League.

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