Kristian Woolf worried about scheduling as Super League season looms

St Helens coach Kristian Woolf has criticised the decision to play Super League matches on the weekend of the mid-season international break.

Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 10:29 am
Kristian Woolf

While the NRL is put on hold to enable the second State of Origin and international fixtures to take centre stage on the last weekend of June, Super League has scheduled a full round of fixtures.

That is set to clash with England’s match against a returning Exiles, which has yet to be confirmed but is expected to take place at Headingley on Friday, June 25.

St Helens could have as many as eight or nine players involved in the England-Exiles fixture, which Woolf says comes at a particularly hectic time domestically as clubs prepare to cram in midweek fixtures.

Woolf, who combines his job at Saints with that of Tonga coach, believes the England fixture is important enough to have its own slot in the calendar.

“I think the Exiles is a great concept,” Woolf said. “I obviously support international rugby league.

“It is a way forward for the sport and any opportunity that we can create for international rugby league is really important, not just for those countries but for the game as a whole.

“Where I get a bit concerned is once we get to June and how congested the schedule is.

“We’ve got a period around June/July where we’re going to be asked to field teams for five games across 20-odd days.

“Some of those turnarounds are three and four days and that’s a period where we’ve got an international game where we’re hoping for five or six or even more players playing for England and that’s without ever talking about Exiles.

“That becomes really difficult to do. We quite often talk about player welfare but what we’re being asked to do as coaches and players is completely unreasonable.

“What I think should have happened is that the England-Exiles game should be given some importance and actually put on a free weekend. There should be a bye in the schedule on that week.”

Woolf accepts it will be impossible for him to take charge of Tonga in their proposed mid-season international, as much due to the travel restrictions as well as Saints’ fixture against Hull KR that weekend.

Meanwhile, Woolf says his team will need to find some improvement in 2021 if they are to complete a hat-trick of Super League title triumphs and he believes he has the personnel to achieve it.

The defending champions have brought in a trio of NRL recruits in Joel Thompson, Agnatius Paasi and Sione Mata’utia to plug the gaps created by the departure of Dom Peyroux, James Graham and Zeb Taia and Woolf is confident they are stronger.

“The challenge gets bigger every year,” he said. “If you look through the competition, every team has been quite smart in how they’ve recruited.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re finding improvements and I think we are a little bit stronger than we were in 2020 on paper at least.

“All our new players have come over from Australia at a difficult time and fitted into the group exceptionally well. I think we’ve got plenty of improvement in us.”