Cunningham slams Easter schedule

St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham has hit out at the way in which Super League fixtures are scheduled over the Easter period.

St Helens, like many other clubs, have been hit with a long injury list this season, which has been exacerbated by the demands of the Easter programme, where clubs are compelled to play three games in seven games.

Cunningham would like to see it changed as a matter of urgency by the game’s governing bodies.

“It would make sense [to change it],” he said.

“You look at what they do in Australia, they stagger games all over the weekend from Friday to Monday, and they could easily do that.

“You could even have some double headers somewhere, or do something, we’ll take anything.

“We always talk about player welfare, and, for me, how is this any good for the welfare of players, playing three games in seven days? I don’t understand that.

“We’re putting players in spots they shouldn’t be in, and we don’t do it in other walks of life, and I don’t understand why we’ve got to do it in rugby league.”

Cunningham acknowledges that playing such a testing programme as a player was never something he enjoyed.

He also believes that it is affecting Super League‘s ability as a competition to match the NRL, with too many games wearing players down.

“I’ve done it all through my career. I never once enjoyed it,” he said.

“But you do it because you’ve got to do it.

“Everyone in the competition is the same as me, as a coach I know that if you get through that Easter period without losing players then you’ve done really well.

“We’ve not done that – we’ve lost some players. Some of them we’ve lost for the season, some of them we’ve lost with many long-term things.

“So it’s not good. It’s not good for us as a club to have to get through that.

“People say to me, ‘Why are you not getting close to Australia?’

“Then I come back and say, ‘Well, I played 500 games in my career.’

“Someone of the similar stature in Australia as I was as a player would play [much more], if they play 300 in Australia, then you’re celebrated as one of the legends of the game.

Michael Ennis is a great hooker in Australia – he’s just celebrated his 250th game, and he’s been around forever and a day.

“My captain has just celebrated his 400th game, and they’re a very similar age.

“That’s the difference – 150 games more.

“We ask why we’re not getting closer, and they ave four or five month preseasons, we have two months if we’re lucky, because we’re playing that much rugby.”

The Saints coach feels that the game’s hierarchy in the UK does not pay enough attention to the complaints of clubs about the scheduling imposed on them.

“I understand clubs have got to be viable, and it’s a business and you play games, but something’s got to give somewhere,” he added.

“We can’t just keep piling it on the players, because they will give, they’ll break and we’ll end up with a rubbish competition.

“Tony Smith [Warrington coach] has lost his best player in the team through that exact same thing.

“A lot of them are soft tissue injuries. A lot of them are hamstrings or calves, and that type of injury, which is a fatigue element.

“So don’t ask me why we still do it, but we do.

“The powers that be who don’t have to play the game will always say that it’s a good idea.

“Generally that third game on the Friday is a flop anyway, because everyone’s that tired, it doesn’t make for great viewing anyway, so I don’t know why we do it.

“We’ve just got to do what we’re told in rugby league, and that’s what we do.”

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