It’s been thirty-six days since we last saw a ball kicked in Super League, and a whole month since the National Rugby League in Australia padlocked the stadium gates, as the silent killer Coronavirus has gone on an international rampage leaving a trail of death and emotional destruction.
With all other sport being put on hold, as responsible people stay at home and cram DVD box sets or get full value out of their Netflix subscriptions, there is a real desire to return to some kind of rugby league action.
In the interests of national sanity, we look at some of the options being suggested to at least enable a limited return.
Super League & Championship
The most recent suggestion, from Martyn Sadler, is that Super League 2020 would be run over two seasons, re-commencing much later this year and running through to a Grand Final in August to give Shaun Wane plenty of time to prepare for the World Cup in the Autumn Of 2021. But that is a full eight months to go with no rugby league which prompts questions as to whether the game, and all our clubs, can survive.
A plan put forward by Tony Smith and Kevin Sinfield would see Super League starting up again from as early as late May but behind closed doors with all games being televised either as ‘pay per view’ or being broadcast as part of the existing Sky package. Supporters could buy season passes for their sides or one-off matches with money going to the clubs to replace lost gate receipts. If Super League could adopt this model, and get things up and running before any other sport, it could attract a large number of new viewers starved of live sport.
Leeds supremo Gary Hetherington has suggested playing three games a week to catch up but this has gone down badly with some players and some clubs.
What is clear is that there won’t be any movement until very late in May at the earliest, and realistically it will be June or July before we will get any televised action. A return to full stadia could take much longer to achieve as we all continue to do battle with COVID-19.
There have been some ambitious plans for a commencement of the game down under too.
Early suggestion of a quarantined island hideaway for all sides, players being shipped to the mainland to play televised games behind closed doors, was muted as long as three weeks ago.
A recent relaxation from the Australian government, some beaches being reopened to the public, has given some hope to a return to some form of rugby league by the end of May, although there are lots of medical and logistical hurdles to overcome. And the situation is fragile. It only takes a small flare-up to set back plans for months.
The current talk is of a May 28th restart down under with a State of Origin series following the close of the regular season. If this can be realised the it may well be the first sport which we will get to see on British TV’s as a live action audience take advantage of something to fill their hours.
But for now, and at least the next month, we will just have to buckle down and stay at home to stay healthy.