Rugby League Players’ Association chief executive Clint Newton has shot down suggestions of a pre-season tournament being established from next year onwards, claiming the players in the NRL are already at breaking point.
“To be absolutely blunt, the players cannot play anymore football than what they’re doing at the moment,” he told SEN.
Reports emerged last week in The Sydney Morning Herald that league powerbrokers were in the preliminary stages of creating a proposal for a pre-season competition which would involve all the teams vying for points and prizemoney.
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The aim was to draw extra revenue through sponsorship deals as well as increased viewership numbers on television, to rival the AFL’s NAB Cup during the trial period.
“We wouldn’t support a pre-season tournament, but I haven’t seen anything and nothing has been proposed,” Newton revealed.
The Australian Rugby League Commission, RLPA and NRL are all currently locked in negotiations over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement which has caused plenty of fractures within the game.
Along with negotiations over revenue rights and post-playing career incentives, the RLPA are also adamant the players can’t be engaging with an expanded program of fixtures as they are already suffering burnout.
“It’s about maximising the schedule that we’ve got, but increasing the workload of players, in our view, is not the answer,” Newton said.
He cited concerning figures in relation to career longevity within the game, as a vital factor in opposing the tournament.
“Players have short careers- the average is about four years,” he said.
“By loading more and more on our players, we will continue to see the trend that is constantly occurring of players not playing for as long as they should be.
“It’s been trending downwards over the last half a dozen years, and we need them playing for as long as they can.”
Under the reported initiative, Super League champions St Helens would be invited to compete alongside the 17 NRL clubs.
The trial period has previously often been left in the hands of clubs to arrange as they see fit, but the venture could be pitched as an opportunity to heavily commercialise the trial period for them.
Although Newton believed the season was already long enough and a pre-season tournament couldn’t be justified within the current landscape.
He also noted how players would have to be consulted during the process and it was likely they’d have no appetite for it.
“We play the hardest and most demanding code in the world,” he declared.
“We have the longest season of any contact sport in the world. The players start playing in February, let alone the training that they have to endure to get ready for the season.
“So, the contact that happens from the beginning of November, through to the beginning of February when they’re playing All-Stars and trials, then 27 rounds and some of them are playing the three Origins plus finals and then potentially Test matches at the end of the year- this is a brutal game.
“Now, to whack in more matches at the beginning of the year is absolutely back to agreement rights. If you are increasing the obligations of players, then it needs to be agreed.”