The moment we have all been waiting for!

Upfront: The League Express opinion – Mon 17th May 2021

It’s a milestone Monday as fans return to Rugby League grounds, albeit in limited numbers, for the first time in 14 months.

The presence of supporters inside Wembley for Saturday’s FA Cup final, and the noise and atmosphere they created, certainly whetted the appetite for tonight’s seven fixtures and, hopefully, the following weeks and months.

There are five Super League matches and two in the Championship, and by Sunday, nine out of twelve top-flight teams, seven or eight out of 14 in the second tier and half of the ten League 1 teams will have had a home game with spectators in attendance.

It’s seven or eight in the Championship because Dewsbury and Batley have asked the RFL if their Heavy Woollen derby, scheduled for Sunday, can be put back to a later date in the hope that the current crowd limit of 635 will be increased when Covid guidelines are considered by the government next month.

That’s a sign not just of how much fans are valued, but the amount of income they generate, not just by their admission money, but through the modern version of the old three Ps – pies, pints and programmes.

Another P, the pandemic, has clearly posed plenty of problems for the game, and without wanting to put a dampener on proceedings, it’s worth pointing out that we’re not out of the woods yet.

That was illustrated by the postponement of the scheduled Sunday-afternoon Championship meeting between Halifax and Sheffield, after two Eagles players returned positive Covid tests.

A further five were identified as close contacts, taking the total to the minimum number of seven being ruled out to permit a call-off.

Sheffield also pulled the plug on last week’s scheduled training sessions.

The fixture was the first this year to be postponed as a result of positive Covid tests, and hopefully it will be the last.

But the virus clearly hasn’t gone away, with well-publicised worries over the spread of the Indian variant.

With a higher transmissibility than the Kent variant – which drove the UK’s deadly second wave – there are fears the Indian variant could derail England’s final roadmap step of lifting all restrictions on June 21.

And government ministers have warned of potential local lockdowns, which could affect towns and cities in which Rugby League is played.

Instead of getting more fans in grounds, we could end up playing behind closed doors once again.

Whatever happens regarding Covid’s effect on Rugby League, we will be reporting on it, just as we have since it’s unwanted and unwelcome arrival.

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