Rugby League: Fixture trial is halted by elite

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The Independent Online
SUPER LEAGUE has ditched midweek fixtures for next season after its ill-advised experiment with them this year, with 28 matches rather than this season's 30 scheduled and no midweek games to be held apart from re-arranged ties involving the Challenge Cup finalists.

The game's elite will, however, carry on with games on the Sunday following the Cup final and a double programme on Good Friday and Easter Monday. Those dates are regarded as having been a success, which is more than can be said of regular midweek games, condemned by coaches and players alike and generally a failure at the turnstiles.

"The clubs were totally unanimous in their desire to play as many fixtures as possible, but without the need for midweek games," said Super League's managing director, Maurice Lindsay. "In that way, we are answering the needs of players and fans alike."

The format has been drawn up on the assumption that there will again be 14 teams in the competition this year, although it is possible that there could be 13 - if a club is relegated and none promoted - or 15 - if one is promoted and the bottom side in Super League is invited to stay up.

But, if the magic number is 14, the 28 games will be comprised of clubs playing each other home and away, with two extra games featuring as part of Super League's programme of roadshow matches.

The change was immediately welcomed by the Bradford coach, Matthew Elliott, whose side, as Super League leaders, can claim to have coped with the overloaded fixture format better than any. "I think it's a credit to the players and coaches that we've been through the fixture schedule we have and still managed to raise standards," Elliott said. "With these changes for next season, there's a lot of reason for optimism."

Elliott has been among those to complain of the distorting effect of midweek games, after which tired sides have been expected to play against fresh ones, usually with predictable results.

Graham Close, the scrum-half who has played for Warrington, Workington and, most recently, Leigh, is the latest professional to be included in England's provisional squad for The Independent-sponsored Student Rugby League World Cup, which begins on 3 October.