While the Easter programme often throws up some mouth-watering derbies, in the first half of it at least, it also brings with it numerous moans from coaches about the demanding schedule.
Player welfare is becoming an increasingly prominent issue, and only this week, Leeds appointed Barrie McDermott to a role looking after just that, and they aren’t alone in Super League.
The complaints about the doubling-up over Easter have been going for years, and if speculation is to be believed, this could be the last year that Super League features a double header over the weekend.
We look back at some moaning coaches from recent years.
The then Salford coach Shaun McRae called the Easter period a “demanding schedule”, as his side lined up against Warrington on Good Friday, before travelling to Leeds on Easter Monday.
He said: “When I first coached in Super League and saw two games at Easter, I honestly thought it was a misprint. If you can win one of the two games you’ve done very well.”
As it happens, Salford managed to win both those games, beating Warrington 18-16 at The Willows, and Leeds 30-20 at Headingley, at a time when they were 13th in the table. I’m sure McRae wasn’t moaning after the weekend.
Current Hull KR coach Sandercock has been an outspoken critic of the Easter schedule, and his criticisms of Super League often don’t stop there. Last year, his side were thumped 84-6 by Wigan just days after recording a hard-fought win over derby rivals Hull FC.
He said: “I don’t agree with it at all. My most important job as a coach is to try and look after my players the best I can.
“We ban the shoulder charge because we’re concerned about player welfare but we let our boys play the biggest derby of the season and then back it up two days later. I think it’s not a great idea.”
Those comments don’t appear to have created any sympathy for Sandercock, who has to take his side to the south of France to play Catalan on Easter Monday, just days after another big derby clash. Ouch.
Sandercock isn’t the first Hull KR coach to give it to the Easter schedule. Justin Morgan landed himself in hot water for his comments about referee Ben Thaler following a defeat to Huddersfield on Easter Monday in 2009, which also followed a derby victory over Hull FC.
He said: “It is the Easter weekend. It is difficult for everyone and it didn’t help that they were allowed to get away with blue murder.
“I am going to teach my side this week to throw forward passes, stand offside all day and tackle round the head because every time we get him, we get the raw end of the stick.
“I’d just can it, can it altogether (the Easter weekend). They talk about revenue but let’s get some good games. That was not a good game.”
The Australian landed a £4,000 fine, half of it suspended, for those comments by the RFL.
St Helens are sitting pretty at the top of the table, but even that can’t stop another Australian, Nathan Brown, having a pop at the calendar. He’s also brought up the Challenge Cup in his comments; a fair point, given that Saints have to play Wigan and Widnes over Easter, and then Leeds in the cup next week, while some of their Super League title rivals have rather favourable draws in the cup fifth round, enabling them to field makeshift sides without risk of defeat.
“Either Easter Monday’s not an important game in their eyes or the Challenge Cup’s not an important game. There’s just too much pressure on teams.
“It’s alright if you’re Wigan and you draw Hunslet but when Leeds and St Helens draw each other it’s the biggest game of the year. I don’t see the common sense in the timing. It’s the worst possible time you could pick to play that game.”
It’s not just antipodeons that have an issue with Easter, Widnes coach Denis Betts piped up with his concerns after watching a weakened side hammered by Huddersfield on Easter Monday in 2013, just days after the Vikings had recorded an excellent home win over Warrington.
He said: “Easter been a part of my life since I can remember but I think you’ve got to look at this and say ‘it doesn’t work’. “You cannot play the game the way it’s played now and expect two games on a weekend.
“If you’ve got two big squads, you can do it but I had four or five lads out there who had played one or two Super League games. I didn’t put them in because I wanted to see them play, I put them in because I didn’t have anybody else.”
Betts called the programme “close to cruelty”. This year, his Widnes side travel to Warrington and then host St Helens over Easter. No sympathy from the RFL for him either, then.
These two Super League veterans have been there and done it. They aren’t coaches (yet), but they too have been outspoken about the Easter schedule. Morley said: “Playing two Super League games over the Easter holiday weekend is just plain crazy and it’s got to stop,” while Peacock has a public gripe with the number of games players are asked to play throughout the season: “The season is too long and players are going to miss the start of the season because they are still recovering from injuries and operations from the last year.”
Despite widespread grumbles, the likes of Shaun Wane, Paul Anderson and Brian McDermott have all defended the Easter schedule in recent years.
What do you think? Should the Easter double header be scrapped?