Easter debate rumbles on

It rears its head every year, and the Easter schedule has failed to avoid criticism from coaches once again.

Many a coach thinks that the traditional Easter programme is damaging to their players, with the two games over four days taking a long while to recover from, while also impacting on the quality of the second Easter game.

With the Challenge Cup games played a week previous, many clubs faced three games in eight days last week, and it’s bound to take its toll injury wise over the coming weeks.

Hull KR coach Justin Morgan has once again called for a change in the Easter programme, suggesting that the matches should be split over the entire weekend with teams playing just once each, as they do Down Under in the NRL.

Rovers won the Hull derby 18-14 on Friday but they fell to a disappointing home defeat to Huddersfield on Monday, with the Giants in a far less intense game against Celtic last Friday.

He said in his local newspaper column: “The time has come for changes to be made to the Easter programme.

“I am not saying this for the first time, and my opinion would be exactly the same had we won both of our games over the weekend.

“However, to ask our players to run themselves into the ground on a Friday, and then repeat that effort on a Monday, is simply wrong.

“It is also poor for the fans, as they are asked to pay the same money to see an inferior product on the Monday.

“Looking at last weekend’s games, there was a clear difference in quality of contests between Friday and Monday.

“I can understand that Easter games are well attended and the revenue aspect of the busy weekend programme.

“But fans aren’t easily fooled and if we are not careful, many will soon choose not to attend the second game of the weekend because they will know what to expect.

“I fully understand the rugby league’s desire to make the Bank Holiday weekend something of a festival of rugby, but I don’t see why spreading the games out over the weekend, possibly two a day, wouldn’t work.”

The feeling is mutual across the leagues, with many Championship 1 coaches scratching their heads at having to play two games over the Easter weekend despite having a free week the weekend after.

Keighley coach Barry Eaton watched his side beat York and Hunslet over the weekend, but rivals Oldham managed to re-schedule their game with Dewsbury, giving them nine days off between league fixtures over the Easter period.

He said:  “I don’t think it’s fair. Last year quite a few teams played just once over the holiday period while we had to do Good Friday and Easter Monday.

“As a result of that, we picked up lots of injuries which led to a mid-season pile-up.

“It’s got to be the same for everyone or not at all. Oldham have managed to find a loophole in the system and they’ve used it.

“We’ve all actually got next weekend off and so that’s really frustrating. We could have played Hunslet then.

“It would have been interesting to see what the powers-that-be would have done if every team decided to change their Bank Holiday fixtures to the following weekend.

“If it was exactly the same for everyone then I could accept it without a grievance but then only recently we see Oldham have changed that Easter fixture.”

But one man who isn’t complaining is John Kear, and not just because his side picked up two victories – against Castleford and Bradford – over the weekend.

He said: “You can moan and groan – it is difficult for players, difficult for us, we don’t get an Easter weekend – but it is part of the job.

“We get well paid and if you want to be well paid for the job you have to get people on the terraces. You have got to generate revenue.

“It might not be best for performances but if we want paying we have got to play over Easter. That is the top and bottom of it.”

A number of coaches, notably from the NRL, have taken the side of Morgan, arguing that it proves too tough for players, and it’s hard to disagree with them. Both Nathan Brown and Mick Potter have spoken out of the scheduling, despite watching their sides pick up maximum points over the weekend.

It is also difficult for fans, particularly during the economic recession. With two games in such a short space of time, travelling and entry costs might prove too much for many fans.

The Easter period traditionally throws up derby encounters. We saw Wigan play Saints, the Hull derby, Leeds against Bradford, Widnes against Leigh, Rochdale against Oldham, but due to the imbalance of the league, we the Monday games are often against sides a lot further away.

Widnes had to travel to Doncaster, Wigan went all the way to France to face Catalans while Blackpool had to trek to London.

So is it time to scrap tradition – as we have done with the abolition of promotion/relegation – and phase one round of games across the Easter period rather than play the usual double-headers?

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