For the first time in my journalism career, I will attempt to beg the reader to forgive me before writing the rest of this 500 word article.
You see, I have noticed a trend with the release of the fixtures today (Friday) that is humbly unfair on certain teams. With my blue and primrose tinted glasses firmly perched on my nose for the first and only time writing for Love Rugby League, I shall begin.
As a Warrington supporter who picks up the fixture list for the first time, the order in which I look for certain fixtures is as follows: The first home and away games of the season, the annual pilgrimage to Catalan and the St Helens, Wigan and (in this year’s case) Widnes derbies.
To my surprise all four of the above named fixtures were combined together.
Tony Smith’s men face an extraordinary combination of fixtures in the run up to Easter, playing Wigan, St Helens, Widnes and Catalan away on Easter Monday in consecutive rounds.
After three intense derby fixtures on the run, Warrington will have a short turn around before travelling to the south of France four days after their first Cheshire derby in Super League for seven years.
I understand there are many variables that can affect the way fixtures are laid out before the season. Many teams within Super League ground share with clubs from other sports, and the RFL have to work around those dates when stadiums are unavailable for the rugby league club.
But looking down the barrel of four incredibly hard games on the run, there is potential Warrington could lose all four respectably. This in turn could affect the remainder of the season mentally, and that’s taking away the Easter weekend factor which sees a 2,000 mile round trip towards the end.
Rugby League is a cruel and tough sport, but fixtures runs like these don’t help players reduce burn out, which coaches often complain about particularly around Easter.
Warrington’s run of fixtures isn’t unique looking back over previous years. St Helens faced the prospect of hosting Wigan and travelling to Warrington on consecutive rounds last season. It was a combination of games that Saints eventually lost in both encounters.
Leeds also had a particularly hard Easter in 2010. Following an away loss to Wigan, they were forced to host Bradford in what turned out to be a thrilling 20-all draw before travelling to the Stade Aimé Giral in Perpignan.
While Warrington’s example isn’t unique, it puts a strain on the best players in the competition that is evidently taking its toll when the England national side comes calling.
I accept we have been dealt a bit of hard luck when it comes to the fixtures surrounding March and April. Smith may take the run with good grace, get on with the job and remind the moaning brigade (of which I am a privileged member) that we play 27 rounds against nine other teams as well. But the key fact is, fixture lists like these only add to player’s fatigue and a combination of three consecutive derbies followed by a trip to France takes it out of you compared to a run of Salford, Hull and Bradford.
And for those of you concerned, my blood pressure has now lowered.