Monday, April 16, 2007

Happy Easter Bunnies?

Not the Super League coaches, that's for sure.

Not surprisingly, they have been united in decrying the Easter fixture format, which can see sides playing four games inside fourteen days depending where the pre and post bank holiday double header fixtures fall.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if you make anyone - even a seasoned professional athlete - play one of the world's most punishing collision sports on a Friday it's a big ask for him to get up and do it all again the following Monday. Fatigue is certain to take its toll both mentally and physically, and the quality of the product you're offering to customers will decline as a result. So why do we do it?

Kerching - that's why. The Easter Monday/Tuesday round of fixtures this year created a single round record attendance for the history of Super League. The Hull derby played a major part in the final figure, but there were other good crowds at St Helens and Leeds in there too. Bank holiday live sport is very popular. In the most part there's no worrying about school or work getting in the way, the telly's usually rubbish and roads to the coast or countryside tend to be jammed as far as the eye can see. Chuck in a healthy dollop of that old rugby league staple condiment "tradition" and it's no surprise that club chairmen want to milk it for all it's worth.

Well here's an idea for all those coaches who object to the double header over Easter and the impacts it has on their squads for the next two or three weeks after. Next year, field virtual Academy sides for the second round of fixtures over the bank holiday. All get together, and agree to do the same thing in the interests of protecting your players. Let's see how chairmen and broadcasters like the idea of not being able to put their prize livestock on show twice in such a short space of time. As things stand, it may take something as radical as that to force those in charge of the game to take a closer look at what they are expecting from the most important assets the game of rugby league has - the outstanding athletes that play it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Kids Are Alright

James Roby, James Graham, Ashley Gibson, Jordan Tansey, Sam Burgess, Ryan Atkins, Brett Ferres, Danny Washbrook, Tommy Lee, Scott Murrell, Eamonn O'Carroll, Chris Melling, Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook.

Core of a decent little side there, and perhaps more importantly they're all young, British and featuring regularly in Super League this season. Some, such as Roby, Graham, Gibson, Atkins and Ferres are no strangers to representative selection either at Great Britain or England level. The others won't be too far off the radar of those responsible for identifying talent for the future international programme providing they maintain form and fitness.

Add in the spine of the side that played in the Tri Nations last year who still have miles in the tank at top level such as Pryce, McGuire, Yeaman, Burrow, Fielden, Peacock, Hock, Wilkin and others and it all looks reasonably rosy. So, why aren't I confident that the 2008 World Cup will end in anything other than a mauling for England at the hands of the Aussies and Kiwis?

Truth is, we've been here before in terms of crops of oustanding youngsters who could more than hold their own against Antipodean opposition at Academy level, without them being able to translate it into results once they're in with the big boys. What we seem to be no nearer to solving is why?