IT'S going to be a long wait until Super League kicks in again.

In years past, this time of year has been devoted to international rugby league and so even though the domestic season had finished there was still top-class action to look forward to each week – and usually with a chunk of Wire players involved.

And then the break to the start of the new campaign has previously been around eight to 10 weeks, with Christmas and a few friendlies all helping to fill the gap and make it seem bearable.

But with the 2021 season not starting until March 11, as confirmed yesterday, it feels like ages away.

This schedule will take it to 12 months since fans were last allowed inside stadiums for Super League matches. It's like the itch that needs scratching but doesn't go away.

Clearly it is going to be a difficult wait for supporters, especially given the tier restrictions also in place from next week making all our lives tougher in general and not having the weekly rugby fix to look forward to at the end of it.

Not since 2002 has a Super League season started in March, but the reasons for it are totally understandable and we all have to be realistic.

Nobody can deny the players, and coaching staff, across the competition need the break after everything they have put themselves through in 2020.

It's the monster of challenges anyway for players to put their bodies through the rigours of a season of top-flight rugby league, which is among - if not the greatest - test of human capabilities in world sport.

But to do so in the manner of 2020 was mindblowing. Let's not forget how the season was suspended in March just as it was getting into flow, and then more than four months later it started again after the players had all been on furlough leave from their clubs yet maintained their fitness levels, put themselves through another mini pre-season and returned to a sport made faster due to Covid-19 rule changes.

And they did themselves justice in the performance levels and provided a sport-starved national TV audience with some pretty decent fayre in the main, despite having to adapt to playing behind-closed-doors and the ever-changing environment around Covid-19 safety protocols including regular testing.

Not forgetting too that the games came thick and fast from September in order to meet contractual obligations of broadcast partners, meaning many players went well beyond the call of duty in order to provide the nation with entertainment, to keep their jobs, the sport and, no doubt, their sanity alive in a season the likes of which none of us hopes to see again.

The players and coaches were not on their own in going an extra million miles for rugby league, with backers having to dig deep into their pockets and the majority of supporters foregoing refunds on season tickets.

However, it was the players who put themselves in harm's way and in doing so put their families and friends in the firing line too.

When Super League returns, we want the players, clubs and supporters' sacrifices made in 2020 to have been worthwhile – and that means a stronger and more exciting competition next year leading into the Rugby League World Cup on English soil.

The players need their recovery time and a full pre-season of training so that they can not only be the best they can be for their clubs from March to October but have the stamina to shine on the biggest stage of all at the end of the year too.

The schedule announced though looks tight when all circumstances are considered, highlighting even more reasons for the longer break. The point is acknowledged that the longer break also increases the chances of spectators returning.

From March 11 to the Grand Final at Old Trafford on October 9, there's 31 weeks. No team will play more than 34 matches, even if they reach the Challenge Cup Final and Grand Final, so on paper it looks doable but we don't know if Covid-19 will have any impact on next season in terms of outbreaks and force fixtures into needing to be rearranged.

No doubt there will be contingency plans for whatever the year throws at us and the sport, and it's fair enough in these crazy times that the game's chiefs put a working plan in place and reassess if necessary later in the year. Perhaps the four loop fixtures for the 12 clubs in the 27-round season, which includes Magic Weekend at the end of May, could have been left out.

Would it not be wise for the sport's governors to offer some additional protection to the game's greatest assets – the players – in what will be a very important year for rugby league?

There is a salary cap in place to look after the financial side of club operations - how about an appearance cap as a one-off for 2021 to aid the health and welfare of the men who put it all on the line?

For example, a rule could be employed that no one player features in more than 25 competitive games for their club next year. It would force coaches' hands in to giving players a beneficial break now and again, while also promoting squad rotation and giving youngsters more opportunities.

In a results driven business and all the pressure that exists to finish in the play-offs places at the end of a year, there may always be the temptation to give a player the extra game for short-term reward – but that just might be the game that takes the edge off a player later in the year when a rest could have made all the difference.

We saw this year that when clubs lost players to Covid-19, there were talented young players eager to step up and show their worth. They can only grow and develop if they are dipped in and out of the Super League action more often.

Take The Wire for example, 15 of the 35 players who made it into the matchday 17 during 2020 made only 37 appearances between them – meaning the other 20 featured in 299 games. Also a good few of those 37 appearances were for limited game time.

Just like Boris Johnson keeps asking everyone to protect the NHS so that they can protect us, perhaps we should be protecting the players so that they can protect the sport that will be showcased like never before in just under 12 months' time.