Phil Clarke says Catalans should focus on winning home Super League games
Phil Clarke reckons Catalans may be better off focusing on winning only their home games.
Last Updated: 03/04/13 1:30pm
Some think that it's cruel on the players and provides a lower quality spectacle for the supporters, whilst others view it as a test of mental strength and a challenge to be tackled head on.
It's a chance for a coach to rotate his squad and attempt to gain the best performance by using 25+ players in rounds nine and 10.
In simple terms, the debate boils down to this: do we (i.e., players, coaches and supporters) want the season to start one week earlier than it currently does or do we want one less game in the season?
If the answer is the latter, then the players and coaches need to realise that they'll have to take about a four per cent pay cut. It would be interesting to hear the results of a poll if all of the players in the first team squads at all 14 clubs voted. We only tend to hear from coaches at this time of year.
It would be a radical change to rugby league in this country if we altered the traditional Easter programme - but I want to suggest an even more extreme approach.
We constantly hear about the effects of the trip for teams to the South of France to play against the Catalans Dragons.
People make reference to the fact that they've had an early start, long bus trips, delays at the airports etc etc and that it's meant that they've had very little time to train or practice in the week after they've been to Perpignan.
I've read how it has taken four days for a UK-based team to get there and back because the flight times weren't convenient and they're only left with one day to prepare for their next home game.
Here at Sky we have even been guilty of it when we say that such a team have had a difficult week "as they had to play down in the South of France just last Saturday".
Well how about you see it from the other side. Imagine for a minute that you're French and the Catalans Dragons are your favourite team. They have to do this every other week. That has to be a disadvantage to the other teams.
So here's where I'm going to suggest something that seems a contradiction to everything I've ever heard or believed about sport before: the Dragons just try to put all of their effort into winning their home games.
This gets them into the play-offs, and then they have a massive effort for four weeks when they know that they have to play well and win away from home but have all of their best players fit and fresh for this challenge.
I'd bring most of my second-choice players to the UK for games during the season, young French lads who are bursting with enthusiasm, with one or two of my main stars who travel on a rotational basis.
The ones left in France have the time to rest and prepare for the next week's home game. In some ways it seems wrong, but it's perhaps the best chance that the Dragons have of winning the competition.
It seems to go against the spirit of the sport, and the game's administrators might not like it, but the play-off system means that finishing first no longer counts as much.
The performances by Leeds Rhinos during the last two years at play-off time are proof that you only need a perfect month to win the big prize.
I realise that they might not win every home game, but it usually takes something special to beat them (e.g., Leeds effort last Monday). Nor will they lose every away game.
Somebody said to me recently that the Dragons are the most-travelled rugby league team in the world.
I wasn't sure when I thought about the air miles that the New Zealand Warriors picked up over the course of the season.
But when you look in detail, you realise that the door to door (or bed to bed) travel time is longer for the Dragons due to the difficulty of flying from point to point. Direct connections to places where the games are played are much easier for the Warriors.
So, what do you think? Should it be allowed? Does it damage the reputation of the sport? Can you see it working?