Time for players to stop whinging about burnout

RUGBY league fans can be excused for feeling confused next time they hear a coach or player complain about burnout.

Asking too much of the players has been a thorny issue of recent years. Despite having access to superb amenities as well as the best medical, dietary and recovery advice the game has ever offered, five-day turnarounds during the NRL season and 24-plus games is seemingly just too much to ask of our superbly fit players.

But when it suits them, those same players are the first to jump up and down if it is suggested one of these "extra" games that appeals to them could be shunted from the calendar. Saturday's All Stars match is a perfect example.

Despite last year's annual event on the Gold Coast losing a reported $500,000, and 14 of the players originally named for Saturday night's clash withdrawing, support for the game has come from all quarters.

Not unexpectedly, high-profile indigenous leaders in the game - Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston and Sam Thaiday - have been vociferous and logical in their support.

Long-term All Stars coach Wayne Bennett believes it is crucial to young indigenous kids that the program continues, while Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith says that if any pre-season game should be axed, it's the Auckland Nines rather than the All Stars.

But Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has fired up big time - and with good reason. He had five of his best players involved in the game.

The initial plan was that no NRL club would lose more than two players to the All Stars match - one on each team. But because of the spate of withdrawals, the Sharks, in particular, were savaged.

Fourteen withdrawals is a big number, especially at this stage of the season. And while there was no apparent common denominator, fans would be well within their rights to think some players didn't want to risk injury by playing.

Yet, with $2.6 million in prizemoney up for grabs at the Auckland Nines the previous weekend, no mass pre-tournament exodus was evident. And with the Eels setting a precedent by awarding their victorious members each a $10,000 bonus, that will be an added lure for players next year.

Then, of course, there is the World Club Challenge being played in England next weekend, with the Cowboys, Broncos and Roosters involved. With an all-expenses covered week in England, staying in five-star hotels and flying business class, no players have knocked back that trip.

Admittedly, the NRL competition is as demanding as at any time in the 108-year history of the game, but the benefits too have never been greater. So maybe it is time the players stopped whingeing and when they feel they need a rest, just step aside - like 14 did on Saturday night.

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