St Helens looking to maintain tradition

Rugby League
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The Independent Online
Rugby League

DAVE HADFIELD

The Christmas derby may not, after all, be a turkey doomed to have its neck wrung after this year.

Although the switch to summer rugby means that this festive season's will be the last league matches on Boxing Day and New Year's Day, St Helens are hoping to preserve the tradition. Saints have a lucrative annual meeting with Wigan on Boxing Day that they are reluctant to lose.

"We have come up with the idea that we should have a two-legged Winter Challenge, played on Boxing Day and New Year's Day, and decided on aggregate," said the Saints' chief executive, David Howes.

"We have put the idea to Wigan, who are interested in principle. The would then have to give their permission, because it would fall outside the normal season.

"It is an attempt to capitalise on two of the block-busting sporting days of the year - but with a difference."

The financial temptations are obvious, but there are also clear drawbacks. Players would be asked to perform during their close-season, and coaches could regard it all as an unnecessary distraction. Despite that, other clubs which traditionally meet over the holiday period - like Hull and Hull KR or Halifax and Bradford - are certain to be at least interested in the prospect.

But the Bradford Bulls coach and chief executive, Brian Smith, sounded a note of caution: "You are asking spectators to pay to watch players out of season, in matches which mean nothing," he said. "I'm 99 per cent certain that it won't happen."

The Leeds coach, Dean Bell, admitted to some sadness if the pattern of holiday derbies is to come to an end. "It has become a great tradition for everyone to go out on the day after Christmas and see a traditional derby game," he said.

"But we have got to move on and summer rugby will hopefully bring more supporters through the turnstiles and give our game a lift."

Bell hopes to have Garry Schofield and Tony Kemp available again after injury for this Boxing Day's meeting with Castleford. "With this being the last Boxing Day fixture, it will be really special," Schofield said.

Meanwhile Leeds have failed in an attempt to sign Batley's Australian scrum-half, Glen Tomlinson.

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