Sub-zero, so it must be time for summer rugby

Changing times: Mark Aston will experiment with his line-up
Changing times: Mark Aston will experiment with his line-up
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Get the thermal underwear on, it’s time for summer rugby league’s kick-off … in the coldest month of the year.

The 13-aside game is at it’s best staged on hard pitches that encourage fast open play – the pitches will be hard but that’ll be down to a touch of frost.

Welcome to rugby league – a bruising, competitive game where players and fans tough it out against administrative muddle and confusion.

A late March start to the ‘summer’ season would be sensible but, like with most sport, satellite TV’s paymasters call the shots.

The Super League shivered into action last weekend and the second tier of the game must follow suit.

Sheffield Eagles and Doncaster have been given an extra weekend under the duvet but now it’s their big kick-off on Sunday.

But is this really the start of the season? The Championship (league) competitions for the Eagles and Dons don’t start for another four weeks.

Ahead is the half-world of the group stages of the Northern Rail Cup – the Johnstone Paint Trophy of rugby league!

Mark Aston and his rival coaches will chop and change team selections as they seek a first choice 17.

Players must claim a shirt or face polishing a seat in the stands when the league gets going.

Clubs play four games with the best eight going through to the knockout stages and the final in - no, not Wembley … Blackpool.

Any silverware is welcome but, let’s be honest, the group games in the Rail Cup just pad out the season. A straight knockout competition wouldn’t fill out the weekends until the real business of the league begins.

Opening games against near-rivals would be good. No chance.

The sport is run by the suits from the Rugby Football League’s ‘Kremlin’ at Red Hall near Leeds. ‘Red’ is about right because a mate of Putin must have devised the first-round fixtures with both South Yorkshire clubs’ games looking like away days to the Siberian Gulag.

Doncaster head to the Geordie Shore and the wasteland of Gateshead Stadium where supporters are as hard to find as someone who speaks understandable English.

Sheffield Eagles have a longer coach trip to Workington Town.

Derwent Park is a traditional rugby league stadium – which means it’s falling down slowly. It will be very cold. Even the pigeons wear overcoats in Workington.

That won’t keep the supporters of rugby league at home this weekend. After months in hibernation, they can’t wait.

The players will put their bodies on the line and sweat it out even if the temperatures are near zero. But we all know that games will be decided by tries – not endless penalties for infringements of an overblown rulebook.

We’ll get wrapped up well and enjoy that cup of stewed tea with added paper-cup flavour and risk a dodgy pie or nice greasy sausage roll.

You appreciate summer rugby even more - when it arrives.