sport

Wilkin backs Easter double

St Helens forward Jon Wilkin believes the Easter double-header should remain on the Super League schedule despite calls to have the second game scrapped.

The England international is happy with the two-game format over the Easter period, but he has urged the Rugby Football League to restore the Challenge Cup final to its traditional slot in May.

The RFL board has started a review of the current domestic schedule, and they are under pressure from Super League coaches to remove the second game over Easter.

Saints face their third big match in nine days when they face Leeds in the Challenge Cup fifth round on Saturday.

But Wilkin, chairman of the players' association 1eagu3, is happy with the fixture list and believes the game's history and heritage should come before player welfare.

"I've really enjoyed the Easter period," said Wilkin.

"To at be your best on Friday and then to be able to play on the Monday and having to play in a big game the week after, physically and mentally it's a huge challenge for players but it's one I really enjoy.

"I would like it to continue but I understand the arguments why it wouldn't.

"I'm a big believer in the history and the heritage in the game. It's always been a big part of my experience of the game, whether it be a Hull derby or a Wigan-Saints derby.

"As a fan of the game, I sense a real buzz around the weekend. We're an entertainment industry and this is an entertaining part of the year for the fans."

The former Hull KR player, who joined St Helens in 2003, also revealed that 1eagu3 have been consulted by the RFL over the proposed changes.

"It's difficult because as an association you are conscious of the welfare of the players," he said.

"Now playing three games in the best part of 10 days is not in the best interests of the players but what's in the best interests of the players is not always in the best interests of the sport.

"Ultimately what comes first is what's best for the sport. If it's best for the sport, we'd back it."

Wilkin also insists that the unique derby atmosphere generated over Easter is a big selling point for clubs seeking to attract quality overseas players to England.

"It's not replicated by anything else," Wilkin said. "There are not a lot of occasions like that in world sport. There is intensity above and beyond anything we could create artificially.

"Those big gates for derby games are a big attraction for the overseas players and also the young local players.

"To get the opportunity to play in front of 18,000 people who live in the area you come from, it's a huge attraction to those guys."

Concerns have been raised over the two-month gap between the Challenge Cup quarter-finals and the semis, while the final will now take place in late August.

The Wembley showpiece was switched from spring nine years ago and only six weeks typically separates it from the Super League Grand Final.

"The only thing I'd really like to see is it brought back to a May final," Wilkin added.

"I think in terms of consistency and continuity, dragging it out for six or seven weeks between games doesn't work in terms of building momentum around the Cup.

"We talk about the Cup maybe losing some of its charm, well I honestly believe all of that is down to the scheduling of games.

"If we get the final back to May, when it's important to be at your best at the start of the year to get a good cup run in, it gives the competition a bit of a focus.

"It also gives people's wallets a bit of a rest."