Off the Wall

The Kangaroos depart tomorrow for the four nation's tournament in England and France - extending what is a very long season even longer for 24 NRL players.

Inevitably there will be a swag of club coaches, and officials, who will be watching anxiously not only for injuries in the next four weeks, but also evidence of player burnout.

I sense that while the clubs have no real choice when it comes to the international demands on their players, there is growing concern that the end of season demands on players are actually increasing as efforts continue to strengthen the game internationally.

While the programme for the next three or four years is locked in, one of the challenges the independent board that is likely to be set up to run the game will have to confront is the consequences of player burnout, and injury, caused by a 26 week premiership season, plus mid-season and end of season representative games.

There are those who will argue that the representative demands have been lessened because the Kangaroos no longer undertake eight to ten week tours of the UK and France.

But the Kangaroos tours were generally well spaced - and usually four years apart.

Now a truncated version is becoming an annual event, intermingled with a world cup every four years or so.

The reality is that a long Kangaroos tour every four years has been replaced by shorter, but virtually annual, international fixtures.

You have to ask whether that programme has the balance right.

There is no doubt the salary cap, as well as the overall improvements in the NRL and the game generally, are combing to make the premiership even more demanding on players.

The season now runs effectively from early February to the start of October. While clubs all have two byes, Origin players in reality have an unbroken season from February until September or October. And an Anzac test match is thrown in for good measure.

While the whole game has a duty to maintain an "international" profile, the time must come when player welfare is balanced against that.

While clubs will give their Kangaroos players time of when they return, that can disrupt the training regime, which, for most clubs will actually resume in a matter of weeks. It will be particularly severe on clubs like The Storm which have more than one or two representative players.

The basis of the game today and tomorrow is the NRL premiership. It needs to be managed carefully - and that means getting the balance right between a demanding club season and the need to grow the game internationally - and especially in the South Pacific.

I for one don't believe an international competition at the end of every season is getting the balance right!