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For most people Rugby League is a leisure activity. Its what you get involved in when you get some free time away from school or work.
When you're involved in Rugby League, whether it be playing or watching it.....you feel great.
But imagine if Rugby League was your job. Imaging getting up tomorrow morning knowing you had to train twice that day. Now imagine that was you routine for....10 months of the year.
Eventually, Rugby League would become a chore. Anything would!
This is a real concern as we head towards a generation of footballers that know no different. The warning signs are there for all to see as two of the best players in the game have asked for time off.
But while many people start pointing fingers....I'm wondering where the RLPA is during all of this. Surely this goes back to the welfare of players. If this isn't a major issue for the RLPA....what is it RLPA there for?
There is NO reason for any NRL club to be training in October. When I hear about South's Sydney starting training just a few weeks after the Grand Final I cringe. Being involved in physical, football related activities for nearly 12 months of the year can only lead to one thing...burn out.
The RLPA should be taking a pro-active stance towards this problem by having a set date for all teams to begin off season training.
This can not be regulated by clubs. This must be a part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that is being worked on right now.
Training can not be regulated by clubs for one simple reason. If the Panthers start training in December, the Roosters will start training in November. If the Roosters are training in November, the Bronco's will start training in October!
The Rugby League Players Association should be setting two solid dates for players to report to training.
The first one should be set in mid November. This should be when young players and new recruits have to report to training.
The second should be a later date for players that have at least 8 years of NRL experience under their belts. After 8 years of NRL football a player knows what type of condition is needed to play at the top level.
These players are not about to go away and put on 20kgs in the off season. They are coming into a time where their biggest, or last contracts are about to be signed. This is the most important part of their Rugby League career and they are not about to jeopardise that with a lazy off season.
The second major target the RLPA should be setting if for a mid season break. Players are sure to appreciate a week off during the middle of the season to unwind and allow the minor injuries to heal. The NRL season is a tough, gruelling grind that takes alot out of a player both physically and mentally. One week off after the State Of Origin series would allow all players to unwind, regather their strength and then fully commit themselves to the remainder of the NRL season.
Last but not least, the RLPA should be looking to give players at least one day off per week during the NRL season. Give the players a day when they don't have to report into their clubs. A whole day they can spend with their family, a day when they can just be Jamie from Parramatta and Mark from St George.
Officials may balk at such ideas, but officials must also remember that our players are our biggest asset. If our players become tired and rundown it will have an effect on the quality of our game.
In modern day Rugby League, players are first graders at 18. They've dedicated 10 years of their lives to football at 24. You're talking retirement at 28 and you're being pushed out the door by 30.
If the powers that be don't sit down and take serious steps to stop this trend....these number will fall. Not only will this effect the quality of the NRL, but it will also effect the career option a young sportsman might take as he looks for a career with longevity in elite sport.
Week in week out I watch 238 players play in one of the most brutal sporting competitions in the world. There must come a time when these players are protected and their welfare is put first.
That time is now.