Super League clubs are considering an end of season shake-up after another day of fixture cancellation chaos.
Castleford’s Friday clash with Huddersfield was called off when the Tigers reported 12 positive Covid-19 tests in their camp.
Hours later Salford effectively forfeited their match against Warrington after being reduced to their last 13 fit players through injuries sustained during seven matches in 28 days.
Because the decision was not Covid-related, the Wolves have been awarded a 24-0 win.
The competition moved quickly to pit Huddersfield against Warrington on Friday night and retain four televised matches. But the latest moves have strengthened calls to rethink the end of the campaign, with several coaches supporting the expansion of the play-offs beyond a straight four team knock-out.
The matter will be discussed at a meeting of Super League clubs on Monday, but time is running out ahead of a November 27 Grand Final in Hull. Leeds boss Richard Agar – who has had four players stood down through track and trace after they faced Castleford – said: “We need some strong leadership here.
“We’ve got to look and act in the fairness of the game, and what will give us the best finish to the season.
“At the moment, teams that aren’t really in with a shout of the play-offs are dictating how the play-offs will be decided, for reasons other than playing. In a lot of instances it’s absolutely not their fault.
“Its really hard to find a solution that is fair to everybody but we have to give the competition its best look for the end of the year.
“If you’re going to have a five or six team play-offs, that includes four rounds of fixtures – in my opinion that decision has to come Thursday or Friday this week.”
The move does have opponents though, including the Wakefield coach Chris Chester. He said: “I think it’s madness, crazy.
“I’ve not had anything from Michael (Carter, Trinity’s chief executive) or the people upstairs, but we have worked so hard as a club to make sure we fulfil our obligations to Sky.
“With everything we’ve gone through, as a club, I would be really, really disappointed if they went down that route.
“At times we’ve had 11 people stood down, nine people stood down – we could very easily have said we can’t play, we’re not playing, we’ve got too many players out. We’ve not done that, we have fulfilled our fixtures.
“There was one game we had to call off against Leeds, but that’s a game we are picking up now. We have got 20 games to play in the comp and I think let’s get it played, let’s get it done.
“It has been a difficult year for everybody, but I would be disappointed if it finished early.”
Salford director of rugby and operations Ian Blease says he had no choice but to pull out of the Warrington game with 19 players unavailable to coach Ian Watson.
Blease said: “From an employers’ point of view I’ve got to look after their welfare. I had a good chat with our physio and Watto, and we agreed that we just can’t put the boys through it again.
“We did it against Saints on Monday – Lee Mossop and Oliver Roberts played with broken ribs and Gil Dudson was sick four times on the day of the game.
“I stood outside the physio room after the game and watched them come out, and it wasn’t nice.
“We were down to 13 fit and it was all in the wrong positions. We’d have had centres playing prop, and it becomes a player welfare issue then – somebody could get seriously hurt and that won’t happen on my watch.”