Canberra : Digital Image Grant Trouville  © nrlphotos : NRL Rugby League - Round 6 : Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm at Canberra Stadium Sunday April 12th 2015.

We can work together to adjust the schedule

Over the past two weeks there has been a lot of talk about third party agreements in rugby league and the impact it is having on the equalisation of the competition.

It’s an easy topic particularly for media to discuss. As such it gets plenty of airtime.

In fairness, it’s also been a major discussion point among coaches and the NRL itself, so no doubt we will hear more about it as the year unfolds.

With that said, I wanted to raise today another area that, in my opinion, has just as big of an effect on the equalisation of the competition as TPA’s and should come under review.

It’s an area of enormous significance to the integrity of the competition given it has the capacity to make or break the premiership aspirations of a team.

It’s the schedule.

Shortly, if not already, the NRL will sit down with the game’s broadcasters, assess the ladder position of teams and start allocating games into television timeslots from Round 21 onwards.

We return to AAMI Park in Round 7 to host the Roosters. Be there on Saturday 18 April, 7:30pm.

As sure as the sun rises the Broncos will get the Friday night slot. The rest will be determined during the discussions.

It’s in these discussions where the game – and I’m talking the NRL, the clubs, the broadcasters and the RLPA – should work together in partnership to end five-day turnarounds and introduce mandatory six-day breaks between games for the final six games of the season. As challenging as it may or may not be, in my view, there are many benefits to this: Player welfare, improved team performances and tightness of the contests due to additional time available for players’ to recover effectively.

At present five day turnarounds reduce a team’s ability to adequately prepare by limiting the time that is available for players to recover and train.

We have responsibilities as a club to entertain the fans with our on-field performances and I’m sure this can be improved further by implementing this measure.

State of Origin aside, where players are often forced to back up as soon as two days after the interstate encounter for their club sides, there is little else in our game that triggers anxiety amongst performance and medical staff quite like a five-day turnaround. All of those guys are on red alert and often work around the clock to ensure a player’s availability the ensuing week.

It’s an even more challenging proposition for an interstate team given a significant part of two of those five days is taken up by travel.

I’m sure that imbalance has made a contribution as to why North Queensland and New Zealand are yet to break through for their maiden title – as much as you’ll never hear those teams use that as an excuse.

Over the past two weeks, Melbourne Storm has played successive Monday night games, which from a performance point of view works, as there’s a seven-day turnaround.

Even the lead-in (six days) to tomorrow’s game with Canberra is sufficient as it gives players enough time to recover and coaches’ time to prepare. Its only early stages, but in 2015, five of the eight teams that have played on a five-day turnaround have been beaten. One of those was Penrith back in round four when it was soundly beaten by Newcastle – five days after a tough loss to Sydney Roosters.

Penrith under Ivan Cleary are a very good football side and, while Newcastle is much improved from last year, I’d suggest the short turnaround played as much a role as anything else in causing the game to be over at the hour mark on the day. Storm thankfully has a positive record on five day turnarounds since its inception. The NRL is tougher than ever now and there are enough challenges that lay in wait without continuing with this one.

To this weekend and unfortunately rugby league fans in Canberra won’t get to see Billy Slater in the flesh this year.

Billy’s one of the toughest players in the game despite his size. But even he was no match for a big hit from Manu Vatuvei in our last game.

He’ll miss a month of football and I’m yet to name a replacement for this weekend.

Whoever gets the gig, the message will be simple – just do your job for the team. We don’t need him to be Billy Slater.

That’s an impossible task and unrealistic. But we will need him to do his job and play his role in the team. It’s as simple as that and that’s all I ever ask of my players.  

This article originally appeared in The Australian on Saturday 11 April, view it here.