Kris Radlinski Q&A pt.1: On the season restart... and calls for a Super League-RFL reunion
In the first part of a wide-ranging interview, Warriors executive director Kris Radlinski has spoken about the impact the coronavirus crisis has had on the club and rugby league.
Firstly, how is everyone? Have any players/staff had Covid-19 and aside from that, are they coping okay?
Radlinski: The players and staff are all well. You can see from their social media accounts that they are in good spirits. It’s been a challenging situation with things changing on a daily basis and with so many uncertainties. All players and staff are furloughed with just a handful of business critical staff holding the fort. We did not furlough our welfare manager, Tom Fitzpatrick, during this period and he has proved invaluable keeping in regular contact with players and ensuring they have everything they need. We are very lucky to have an incredible gym partner in Matrix and this has allowed players to set up training facilities in their own homes. We know that they won’t be in tip top condition when they return due to the unconventional way of life at the moment but we also know that we have very good professionals who live good lives. A couple of weeks back with the group and their muscle memories will kick back in.
Is there a date of return you’re aiming for?
Radlinski: Again, things change all the time. I, like all the country, tune in every day to the daily updates to check on developments. Very early on in lockdown, we were discussing various fixture lists but that was probably before the severity of the situation was fully understood. Attentions moved from when we were going to play to ensuring we were actually in a position to play. The NRL will resume towards the end of May so we will be able to learn from them. We need to be completely confident that it is safe to do and not putting extra strain on frontline emergency services.
Are you resigned to returning behind-closed-doors? If so, for how long? And would it necessarily be at the DW Stadium?
Radlinski: I think playing behind closed doors is looking more and more likely at this stage as there will be many logistical and safety measures to overcome with regards social distancing practicalities. This will be great as people get to see live rugby league again but the lack of matchday revenue will hurt the sport.
How do you think the rest of this season will be structured?
Radlinski: We are planning for a full Super League season to take place. The longer lockdown goes on, then this looks less likely and then discussions will start as to what changes. Does the Magic weekend stay in place, loop fixtures, Challenge Cup, Super League play-offs, Grand Final day? Everything is on the table at the moment. I remain confident that at the end of 2020, every rugby league fan would have had their fix.
Do Sky Sports want you back as soon as possible? And are you expecting their July payment installment?
Radlinski: The relationship between Sky Sports and Super League is strong. Both realise the importance of the role that each play. The Super League executive is in weekly dialogue with them but they are not pressuring a return to play. Sky Sports are a business as well. It would be naive of us to think that they are not analysing their position throughout the world of sport with no live games to show. Of course they want us back as soon as possible, but they will be led by the Government safety guidelines. We expect the July instalment to be paid.
If you return and plan to play midweek matches, what measures would be taken to safeguard player welfare?
Radlinski: Should a full Super League fixture list take place, then midweek games will occur. This will obviously put more stress on players. The day after the game is not the hardest for a Super League player. Very often it’s two or three days later that you fully begin to feel the effects of the game. This is when all the adrenaline flows out and you begin feeling other knocks and bangs. The successful teams in 2020 will be the ones who learn to train, play and recover the best.
This includes injuries management, nutrition and keeping the mind fresh. It is not going to be easy. Clubs will have to rest players and squad management will be an important factor. Generating togetherness and team spirit will be high up on our list of priorities.
Three club bosses have recently spoken publicly of their desire for SL and the RFL to be realigned, what’s your view?
Radlinski: There is no doubt that the Super League executive team and the RFL team have worked together very well during this process. I don’t think people actually realise just what role the SL and RFL have in each other’s business. The RFL still plays a big role in how the Super League is run. They have a seat on the SL board and they manage all governance of the sport from salary cap, match officials, rules and disciplinary. The Super League’s board manages the game’s commercial interests. This includes, sponsorship, marketing, broadcasting and brand.
The RFL gets a share from these generated incomes. I have heard many people talk recently about both coming together to work under one entity again to save costs, but I would personally be against that for the simple reason that it would be putting extra stress on existing people’s jobs, creating a dilution of role. The challenge that the sport has now is to prepare the businesses so that we are fit for the future and ensure that, should anything like this ever happen again, the whole sport’s existence is not at risk. For the rugby league to succeed, it needs a strong governing body who provide governance and a strong secondary competition with players and teams, all who have aspirations to get into a thriving Super League. This can only be done in my opinion with Super League and the RFL working independently but collaboratively.