The traditional Easter fixtures in the 2021 Super League season are likely to be pushed back until later in the year with the hope of getting crowds in by then.
In a media briefing on Wednesday morning, Super League chief commercial officer Rhodri Jones said the likelihood is that the first two weeks of the campaign will be played behind closed doors and, although there is nothing to prevent clubs hosting their own fixtures, Jones expects a similar arrangement to 2020 when single venues were used to stage double or triple headers.
Jones announced that league fixtures will be arranged for the weekend of the proposed England v Exiles match at the end of June, with a probable quota on the number of players available from each club, and confirmed there will be no derby games over Easter.
Jones said: “At the moment we’ve been focussing on our structure, the Exiles game is in the calendar and it’s known, but that’s as far as we’ve taken it.
“We’ve not had any dialogue with clubs surrounding player availability because we don’t think that’s our place to have those conversations.
“Undoubtedly the clubs are desperate for England to do well, and have said so on numerous occasions. Some clubs will be more affected than others, and there will be some protections in place for those clubs who are asked to provide an over-the-limit number of players.
“There has to be a balance; it would be unfair for 12 players from Wigan to be selected, and none from Wakefield or Hull KR. Even Catalans come into it, because the Exiles as we knew it was just Australian and New Zealand players, but it would be great if some of the French players were considered.”
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The likelihood is that the opening two rounds will be loop fixtures and that the Wigan-St Helens derby, which has been played over Easter every year since 1989, will be pushed down the calendar, along with the Hull derby, in the hope of getting crowds in by then.
Jones said: “The Rival Round, which we’ll call it, which includes the traditional Easter fixtures, will be put back later into the calendar to maximise the possibility of many people being able to attend as possible.
“It was 1989 the last time Wigan versus Saints wasn’t at Easter, and that’s definitely going to be the case this year. With the loop fixtures potentially being round one and two, the Hull derby and Wigan-Saints will get pushed down the calendar.”
A decision on the fixture format is not expected until next week at the earliest but clubs will receive an update from executive chairman Robert Elstone on his negotiations with Sky over a new television deal and plans for corporate investment at a virtual meeting on Friday.
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