Nerves, excitement, release: How that first Super League game feels

The first game of the Super League season is always eagerly anticipated by fans.

After all, they’ve been champing at the bit since the last season ended. Having got Christmas out of the way, they’re keen for the new campaign to get underway.

But what is that first day like for players?

All of us have experienced nerves in our lives, but how does that compare to the nerves of someone who plays our great game for a living?

Well, Love Rugby League caught up with some Super League professionals, and one referee, to find out what those few minutes in the tunnel before the season starts really feel like.

For James Donaldson of Hull KR, nothing in pre-season games can prepare a player for the sense of occasion of that first league game.

“It’s a totally different feeling to anything you get in pre-season friendlies,” he said.

“At the end of the day, you’ve just worked your socks off for two months for this day.

“It’s the start of your year, and everybody looks to start their year with a bang.

“I’m sure, come game day, we’ll be ecstatic and we’ll want to start the season with a bang in front of our home crowd.”

For Wakefield back-rower Danny Kirmond, the sense of anticipation actually grows as a player matures and progresses through their career.

“I’d say you’re probably more excited than when you were younger,” he said.

“You respect it more as you get older, you respect what you’re doing and you think about how lucky you are to be doing this.

“It’s always exciting building up to that first game, I think everyone’s excited by it – the fans, the people you see on the street talking to you.

“Where I live is a big rugby league village, so everyone’s asking you about it.

“I can really sense a big sense of excitement round the place this year, and everyone’s looking forward to seeing how we go in that first game against Widnes.”

Salford centre Josh Griffin thinks that the onus on more senior players is to rein in the nervous excesses of younger players, even if they do feel as confident as he did when he was younger.

“It’s always the same, it’s just one more game,” he said.

“It is bit nervous, though, probably more than any other game, because you’ve got the cobwebs and you’re playing in front of a big crowd for the first time in a while.

“But it comes with experience, you just work with the younger players, and try to settle them down.

“When I was younger, I was probably over-confident.”

With halfbacks as the playmaking generals of the team one might expect the nerves to be more intense, but for Luke Gale of Castleford it’s all about relishing the return to serious competition again.

“I’m probably more excited than ever,” he said.

“It brings you that bit of nervous energy, it’s a real mix of excitement and nerves.

“We’re all geared up for a massive start.”

Gale’s fellow halfback, Wigan’s Matty Smith, tends to just be pleased that the hard work of pre-season is over and he can get back to actually playing again.

“Relief as well! All the hard work’s done!” he smiled.

“It’s excitement, it’s nerves, but I think by now everyone’s ready for that first game.

“You’re looking forward to it.”

For referees such as Ben Thaler, the feeling seems to be pretty similar to that experienced by players.

It seems that match officials also miss the action, which might be a surprise to some, given the abuse they seem to have to endure on an almost constant basis these days.

“Obviously, you miss it when it’s not there,” he said.

“It’s hectic when the rugby’s on. After pre-season you want to get going straight away.

“Obviously, you work hard for nine weeks in training, at Headingley Carnegie in Leeds, at Virgin Active, and in other programmes.

“So by the time the season kicks off, you’re raring to go.

“We had quite a late season last year, it was the end of November when we finished, we were back in pre-season within a few weeks.

“You get that buzz, don’t you? You miss it. Being professionals, we’re all passionate about the game.”

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