Wilkin backs Easter double

  • Last Updated: April 23 2014, 21:12 BST

St Helens and England forward Jon Wilkin has urged officials to leave the Easter double-header intact but restore the Challenge Cup final to its traditional May slot.

Jon Wilkin: Would like to see Challenge Cup final moved back to May
Jon Wilkin: Would like to see Challenge Cup final moved back to May

The Rugby Football League's executive has embarked on a review of the domestic schedule and looks set to bow to pressure from Super League coaches to scrap the second game over Easter.

Wilkin, who is preparing to play his third blockbusting match in nine days when Saints go to Leeds in the fifth round of the Cup on Saturday, argues it would be folly to tamper with tradition.

Even in his role as chairman of the players' association 1eagu3, Wilkin believes the game's history and heritage should come before player welfare.

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

Wilkin, who played for Hull KR before joining St Helens in 2003, says 1eagu3 has 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 argues that the unique derby atmosphere generated over Easter is a big selling point for clubs seeking to attract quality overseas players to England.

Hull KR's Australian forward Michael Weyman compared the atmosphere at last week's Hull derby with that in State of Origin and Wilkin says his Australian team-mate Luke Walsh "was blown away by the atmosphere on Good Friday".

"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."

St Helens coach Nathan Brown recently criticised the governing body for scheduling the fifth round of the Challenge Cup for the week after the Easter double-header, and there is also concern over a gap of two months between the quarter-finals and the semis.

Wilkin is not complaining about the awkward schedule and also dismisses talk of introducing seeding for Super League clubs but would like to see the final brought forward from 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."