For the past several seasons it seems April is the month that players start to voice their concerns about player burn-out.
The NRL has in recent times tried to do something to ease the burden on players, albeit half-heartedly, by having just one standalone representative weekend for the ANZAC Test where no premiership games are played.
The problem is not with the ANZAC Test, but with State of Origin. There is a great opportunity to give our neighbouring Pacific Islands some much needed Test-match exposure and experience, give all clubs byes, avoid having players back up two or three days after Origin and possibly even fix the long-running issue of large drop-offs in crowd figures during the Origin period.
From 2000-15, the average crowd pre-Origin I was 16,077. During the Origin period, crowds drop to 13,681, before picking up again after Origin and running into the finals, averaging 15,403.
Fans are distracted by Origin, their sides are impacted by losing their star players for the series and consequently, crowds fall.
If we adopt a bit of blue sky thinking for a moment and reduced the competition to 22 games per season and have four bye rounds for all clubs every year, this would ensure players don’t have short turnarounds after rep fixtures. Move Origin games to Friday night so players can still play club football the week before Origin if they wish, and have no Monday night football prior to each rep weekend.
A Pacific Nations competition over the four rep weekends, involving Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga, could be staged, with each nation playing the other once before a final between the two best sides on the weekend of Origin III.
A women’s Test match, an Under-20s Origin game, City v Country – all these games could be played and televised live over these rep weekends, among other progressive initiatives.
Such a concept would allow rep players at least a full week to recover from rep games before returning to club football. It would also provide much-needed exposure to the women’s game and the Pacific nations’ Test side, which would make them more powerful and wealthier – in turn persuading players to represent their country of heritage, instead of chasing the big money that comes from playing for Australia or New Zealand courtesy of the residency rule.
This would further improve international football, which is essential to opening up new markets, expanding and improving the game and, most vitally, ensuring its growth and existence continues.
**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**