Tyke Talk #2 | Easter Period and Player Welfare

Well after penning my first player blog last month I was pleased to see the reception it received, and it clearly got people talking on social media which is the aim – the more discussion and sharing of ideas the better.
We’ve just come through the busiest spell of the Rugby League calendar in Britain – the Easter period – and that’s what I’m going to write about today. Unfortunately, I missed all three games over the Easter period due to injury – I’m hoping to be back and fit this weekend – and while I always love to play the Easter spell is so tough on the players.
It’s well documented from the players in the game that the Easter period isn’t really ideal in terms of preparation for a game. Players are being asked to play, recover, prepare and then perform again in just over 48 hours so it’s really difficult. I mean, as players, we love a challenge but if you look at Easter Monday games I’d say the intensity of games are generally down on that of regular weekly fixtures.
The reason for this is that the turnaround is just too short from Good Friday. These games are often derby games for most clubs, which often increases the physicalintensity and can be draining emotionally compared to non-derby fixtures. Generally, the second day of recovery is the day you’re the sorest to be asked to play again the next day is very demanding.
Over the Easter period we played 3 games in 8 days our 3rd game was against Warrington Wolves. They played their Easter Monday game in treacherous conditions at Castleford Tigers and even we had a wet day at Leeds Rhinos and it does sap quite a bit of energy out of you too.
An additional reason why the fixture pile up needs addressing is for the fans, because they are the ones paying their hard earn money to watch and they want to see the best players on the field. They deserve to watch the most intense, fast and high skilled game we can provide, and they aren’t always guaranteed that due to player fatigue and players being rested as a result of the short turnaround.
On the other hand, from the coach’s point of view they’ve got to do what’s best for their side to ensure they continue to get results in the long-term. You have to ask the question whether the same teams that run out at Easter would do if it was just a one game weekend and I’m not entirely sure because players are always competing with niggles and knocks like dead legs but with four and five days you can get over these injuries but after two days maybe not, it probably effects the integrity of the game in a way with teams having to change the sides so much.
If anything, it’s all about managing the workload because I don’t think we play too many games throughout a season, but I do believe the current Betfred Super League model used by clubs it is too long. I think having a pre season friendlies, a 30-game season and the Challenge Cup – as I mentioned in the last Tyke Talk blog – eats into the time that could be spent on internationals. We could still play around 30 games a season but spread it out better over some more interesting and dynamic competitions rather than just the Betfred Super League. At the moment we might be over using our product too? Do the local derbies mean as much if you play each other 4-5, possibly six times a year?
Again, there does need to be a balancing act in terms of players welfare, but your elite players are always going to end up playing more games – that’s a fact. However, they’re compensated for it with bonuses for international and play-off appearances and I am sure all players would be willing to play more games if there are more rewards. A great example of this is the State of Origin players, I often hear about how origin players back up on the weekend after playing on a Wednesday evening. However these players are withdrawn for the NRL games the previous weekend, so in essence are still only playing in three games over three weeks. Furthermore they are heavily compensated for their involvement in the State of Origin, which was around $30,000 in 2017.
The problem with trying to play 30 games and then an international calendar like we currently do is your then eating into pre-season for the following year and it’s a never-ending cycle from thereon and again preparation for the new season is negatively affected.
It’s not fair that players have to burn the candle at both ends when essentially, they’re always playing and fighting for contracts. Everyone needs to be able to put their best foot forward and this is much easier if players are looked after and aren’t overworked. In addition, we really need to look at eliminating things such as high tackles, spear tackles and crusher tackles to the best of our ability. I’ve had to miss three games as a result of a spear tackle – which I don’t for a second think was malicious – however the player in question was only banned for one. I think the displinary process needs to be strict and consistent on certain indiscretions regardless of a player’s previous disciplinary record, we need to make players understand that certain things are not acceptable in our sport. I may be being a little biased, but player welfare and safety needs to be at the forefront of the sport.
We are extremely lucky to be able to do what we do. We earn money for playing the sport that we love but for a lot of players the pay difference isn’t that much more than some ‘regular’ jobs sometimes players earn less than there earning potential away from the game.  The majority of players will need to seek work following retirement so it’s pivotal we try and remain injury free, and really looking at player welfare and workload, such as the Easter period will aid this.
The last thing we want is to have players retiring and just being disillusioned and detached from the sport because they feel they’ve been mistreated. Look after the players and they’ll stick around and give back to the sport following their retirement. I think a big step in doing this after is adapting the Easter period and having a serious discussion about whether it still belongs in Rugby League in the future.

Tyke Talk #1 | Irish Rugby League and the International Game

I’d like to start by saying how much I’m looking forward to writing this blog – ‘Tyke talk’ – on the Club’s website this season and hopefully I can share with you some interesting topics of discussion surrounding the world of Rugby League.
At the end of last year, I got the opportunity to represent Ireland in the Rugby League World Cup and it was a privilege to be picked and a truly fantastic experience. We managed to put together a really strong team for the World Cup including the likes of Michael McIlorum, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Brad Singleton. Personally, I believe we probably outplayed some of our expectations particularly from the view of people outside the camp.
We were quietly confident heading into the Italy game and then we travelled over to Papua New Guinea where we felt a little bit unlucky not to come away with a victory in what was an amazing atmosphere.
I think the 2017 Rugby League World Cup was a showcase of what the sport has to offer and what international Rugby League has the potential to be.
But, I do think the clubs are wary about the international game which I find a little bit frustrating and strange really because I only think improving the international game would only help promote the club game further with players on display on a bigger stage.
If you look at Rugby Union they’ve done it really well. They’ve had a real buy-in for a number of years and even look at Italy and the way they’ve slowly built by playing in the Six Nations for over the years. They’re now are a competitive side, nobody is ever going to be world beaters overnight, but regular fixtures will allow teams such as Ireland, France and Italy increase participation and growth for the game.
The Six Nations is a great competition and it’s an idea we have seen banded about in Rugby League circles since the close of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup and I’m a big advocate of getting it going in Rugby League but under the condition England would field their strongest side as that’s the only way it would be successful commercially and buy in from the majority of the game stakeholders.
Particularly buy-in from the top. Obviously, the majority of Rugby League fans are English, and they want to see the best England team playing and I think if you send the England Knights team – no disrespect to them and they probably might win the competition – but I just don’t think that’s what the fans would want to see. I feel if we’d met England in the Rugby League World Cup we’d have given them a real test.
Personally, I think it’s a lot easier to sell, market and promote England vs Ireland than say a club game of two northern towns. I think people would tune in because they’re patriotic and regarless of the sport they want to see their country get one over another rival country and to build all that under a branded banner such as the Six Nations would be fantastic.
Additionally, this helps the smaller nations improve as a Rugby League nation both on and off the field. We loved competing against the best nations in the Rugby League World Cup but it’s just not something we do enough. For example, we might need to play qualifiers for the next World Cup and this time around we played the likes of Spain and Serbia who the Ireland beat comfortably. This just isn’t attractive to the top-level players who we need to buy into playing international Rugby League on a regular basis as often they have to give up there off season to play, so it does need to be more attractive to some players than others.
I think a Six Nations or something similar at the elite level could garner serious buy-in from the professional players but also on a commercial and broadcasting level. Take a look at the NRL for example who’ve implemented the international round into their calendar which has increased buy-in from players not only to play for Australia and New Zealand but also countries such as Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
It starts to breed that kind of respected culture on an international level. I have no doubt that Tonga will go on to one of the most competitive international sides going forward. I believe we miss out on that sort of opportunity because with the likes of Wales, Scotland, France and Ireland because we don’t get exposure to play at a high level regularly enough.
All of this is at the top level and is key to the growth of international Rugby League and Irish Rugby League in general, but I do think an Irish team being introduced into Betfred League One would be a solid start for the domestic game as my Ireland teammate Oliver Roberts suggested on social media.
Although the domestic competition isn’t the strongest in Ireland there is a lot of hidden talent that falls out of rugby union who could make great league players. I’d love to see a professional team there in the next ten years, it would need to have a structure within itself to be sustainable, using existing clubs to filter in to it and running academies for development.  I think a professional team in League One would be the ideal level for a club encouraging the domestic Irish lads to play the game, and you could attract some of the experienced senior team players to come and play.
I know they tried it in Wales with the Crusaders in Super league not long ago, but there were things that went wrong off the field there rather than on it.  I do honestly believe the work that North and South Wales clubs are doing now will only benefit Wales in the future. They might never get into the Betfred Super League but it’s about giving the domestic players the chance and opportunity to play at a higher level.
I’m really passionate about playing for Ireland and it hit home playing in the Rugby League World Cup after I’d missed a few years and promoting Irish Rugby League is definitely something I’d look at getting involved with going forward.
Well, that’s my first ‘Tyke talk’ done!
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the read. As mentioned earlier I’m looking forward to penning my thoughts on all things Rugby League throughout the 2018 season.

Sign up to the official newsletter