Barrow Raiders had further meetings with the RFL and the clubs below Super League last week trying to put plans in place to return to both training and for the season to be planned. There is total commitment that the 2021 season will take place whatever the circumstances.
The Championship clubs were previously looking at a February return, playing each other twice, with League One starting some time in March. This has now changed with an April return for the Championship playing each other once with the addition of loop fixtures whilst League One can be delayed until May and still have enough weeks to play each other twice and fit in the play-off series before the World Cup.
Everyone at the club is keen to restart but we need to be realistic and be observant of what is going on around us. Until the hospital admissions and deaths start to fall significantly, we are unlikely to see an easing of restrictions, and with-it crowds returning. It makes sense to delay the start as long as we aren’t delaying it to the point where the whole season is in jeopardy.
The RFL are very keen that the sport is seen as socially responsible and for that reason they have put many protocols in place to ensure a safe return to both training and playing, whether that be behind closed doors or in front of restricted crowds. The amount of work involved is huge and some clubs have reported back that they simply haven’t got the resources to comply given that they operate on a voluntary, part-time basis. Those clubs have been given the option of not playing in the 2021 season and would be allowed to return for 2022.
Barrow Raiders are not one of those clubs. We have already produced our own specific protocols derived from the RFLs and there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes. We have been working with the council’s Safety Advisory Group and in parallel to producing the new COVID ways of working we have been reviewing and updating all our Health and Safety Documentation. Karen Scarr, our Safety Officer, and Darren Herbert, our H&S Director deserve a lot of praise for the unseen work that they have been addressing.
We need to work fairly quickly because the Challenge Cup dates won’t be moved because of the TV deal with the BBC and the booking of Wembley Stadium. One of the Resumption Plans omitted League One clubs from the Challenge Cup so that they wouldn’t have to resume for the cup dates in March, and they could make use of the furlough scheme for longer. After discussion at the meeting it was made optional and Barrow Raiders have put their hand up. Ideally there would have been 3 League One teams joining 13 (no Toulouse) Championship teams with two rounds producing a last four that would not only join the 12 Super League teams but would-be semi-finalists for the 1895 Cup. I have heard a whisper that more than three clubs from League One are keen so it looks like there will be a preliminary round for League One clubs with it likely to be 14th March as the date to put in the diary. Obviously if we lose we face the prospect of some idle weeks, with the RFL reluctant to sanction a mass of friendlies if the public health situation hasn’t improved significantly.
I was asked by the RFL why we want to enter and my reply was that we are all desperate to return to some sense of normality and we want to take any opportunity to resume that is offered. Add in a couple of favourable draws and you never know we could be one game from a Wembley final.