I’m chuffed to bits that the Betfred Super League season will resume on August 2.
It’s been a long four months after what was brewing up to be a fascinating season was suspended because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
Great work has been going on behind the scenes to reach this point – and I applaud all those responsible.
It’s such a shame that the sport should suffer so much because physical contact is such a key element – and the enforced lockdown came as our sport looks to expand further on the international stage.
First up – behind closed doors at a neutral venue of course – is Hull KR vs Toronto Wolfpack, while champions St Helens face Catalans and Huddersfield take on Leeds.
Then we’re right back into it with a full round of fixtures during the weekend of August 8-9.
I can only begin to imagine how tough it must have been to sort out the revised schedule of a further 15 rounds of fixtures, not to mention the four-team play-offs and the Betfred Super League Grand Final to follow – probably in late November.
Remaining games will be played at “a small number of neutral venues” which are likely to be the bigger stadiums until of course government directives, particularly regarding social distancing, change.
Betfred Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone is just one of the sport’s top administrators who has been working round the clock to get us back in business.
Robert has had his work cut out, closely monitoring government directives in both France and Canada now we have overseas clubs Catalans and Toronto amongst the 12 Betfred Super League teams.
He said: “We will continue to follow government advice and work alongside the Rugby Football League, clinical advisors and ground safety personnel to ensure that when that time comes, Super League is ready to welcome back its fans at the first opportunity.
“Whilst the recent government announcements underline increasing optimism, the pandemic remains unpredictable. Our final fixture schedule needs to respond to opportunities that will unfold over the coming weeks and accordingly, full details of fixtures, venues and season structure will be confirmed as they become known.”
He’s spot on and I couldn’t have put it better myself. The priority must remain the safety of the players and fans as we battle together to beat the virus.
If the Premier League is anything to go by, the bigger, more successful teams will come back stronger as they will have had the chance to get their more influential star players fit during the lockdown.
Surprise results have been few and far between – and being at home has had not much of an advantage at all with there being no crowd to lift their favourites.
That has led to the more technical teams such as Manchester City doing so well in the majority of their games since the restart – also players who are self starters that don’t necessarily need a lift from the fans are shining brightest.
I reckon that will be the case in Super League too.
Our “welcome back” odds reflect this with Saints 5/2 to retain their title and win the 2020 Grand Final – with Wigan and Warrington both 3/1 shots.
Regarding the challenge from the other side of the Pennines, we at Betfred can’t split Castleford and Leeds who are both priced at 8/1.
The Black and Whites are 16/1 for the ultimate prize in the sport, with their great city rivals HKR amongst the outsiders at 200/1.
New boys Toronto are 250/1 for Grand Final glory with us, while Catalans are a sound bet at 16/1.
Huddersfield are 25/1, Wakefield 100/1 – and my home town club Salford, who did so well defying the odds to reach the final last year, are a tempting 150/1.
The game will be different of course, but scrapping scrums temporarily for instance is a small price to pay to get the game up and running once again.
Medical experts told the Rugby Football League’s Laws Committee that scrums are responsible for a large proportion of face-to-face interactions in matches which is fair enough if the change reduces the number of players who would need to be quarantined if any player tested positive in the days after a match. The RFL deserve congratulations for their agility, quickly adapting to these unprecedented circumstances.
Another change recommended is adopting Australia’s National Rugby League’s so-called “six again” rule, which to me as a layman would lead to even quicker, faster-flowing matches.
That can only be good for the sport which I’m delighted to welcome back.