Leeds Rhinos chief rejects player welfare concerns over three games a week

Leeds boss Gary Hetherington says rugby league faces its biggest challenge since World War II – but insists clubs are ready to do whatever is necessary to survive.

The Rhinos have followed a host of other clubs by implementing the government’s furlough scheme for players and staff amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief executive Hetherington says the bigger clubs like Leeds – who employ 150 people – face the greatest issues, but that rugby league generally is better equipped to cope with the current crisis than other sports.

And he says clubs will have to make concessions as they look to preserve as much of the 2020 season as possible, even if that extends to playing into next year.

Hetherington said: “It's unprecedented times – the nearest comparison we've got is the war 75 years ago. That’s when society was completely disrupted and the enemy brought mayhem to the country.

“Today we've got a similar challenge – we don't have air raid shelters but our freedoms have been curtailed, players have stopped playing and businesses have been shut down.

“The income has dried up but our responsibilities to players and staff are still there. That's the challenge, and I believe it's rugby league's biggest challenge.

“Super League clubs are determined to deliver all 29 rounds – including Magic Weekend – plus the Challenge Cup, play-offs and Grand Final. Ideally the Test series with Australia too.

“We're prepared to play midweek, extend the season – whatever it takes to fulfil our obligations.

“Every club has taken advantage of the furlough scheme, and of course, all the Super League clubs are individual businesses.

“The aim is the survival of all those clubs and by working closely together with the GMB players union, we believe we can deliver an effective outcome.

“Amidst the gloom, there will be opportunities just like in the war. We need to show the traits that has defined the character of rugby league over the last 125 years.”

Hetherington says that will involve having to play midweek matches – something the sport should embrace rather than oppose despite concerns over the workload on players.

He added: “The term player welfare is often misguided and misunderstood.

“We have a rule where we can't play five days after the last game, and that's going to have to go out of the window because we will have to be playing three times a week. But that's not a player welfare issue – it’s a performance issue.

“It will certainly impact on performance and the skill levels, but it demands real character, durability and resilience.

“I'd be disappointed if I started hearing people whinging and using player welfare as an issue for playing too many games, when it's not an issue. Player welfare is very serious but that's not about playing more games than one would hope to play.

“I think that will have an impact on the competitions, because normally, the team who wins the Super League is the most talented.

“But I think the winners this year could well be the team that's not the most talented, and instead the team that displays the best character and can-do attitude and will to win.”

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