The boss of the Rugby League Players Association has revealed he’s made it clear to the game’s top officials that he’s unhappy with when the dates of representative round were announced.
In an interview with Wide World of Sports amid controversy caused by the conflict between State of Origin and the Pacific Tests, RLPA chief executive Clint Newton said he’d told the game’s bosses he was disappointed that the dates weren’t locked in until April 28.
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The Roosters winger and Broncos centre have committed to donning the sky blue in Perth for the second Origin encounter next Sunday, meaning they won’t be able to represent Tonga a day earlier if they’re retained in the New South Wales side.
The dates of the Pacific Tests, which will also see Samoa face Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea meet Fiji, weren’t set until the day round eight of the NRL season began.
“The concern that we raised with the NRL was the timing of the announcement, which I think caught the players’ employer – the clubs – and us (the RLPA) by surprise, and obviously players weren’t aware of it,” Newton told Wide World of Sports.
“I understand there were some changes to government regulation about the ability to play matches in New Zealand, but at the same time, this is why it becomes so important to have a schedule established so we’re not in a position where the season commences and then we’re announcing fixtures, which is not something that we see in any other code, but we certainly have a history of doing it. It’s certainly well intended and we’re certainly supportive of international matches … but it’s just a matter of getting it right, and I think that scheduling is going to be critical.”
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Phil Gould blasted the clashing schedule on Nine’s 100% Footy, labelling it “stupid” and “absolutely ridiculous”.
Brad Fittler called for mid-year Tests to be scrapped on Wide World of Sports’ Freddy and The Eighth, while pinpointing October as the “perfect time … to run a sequence of Test matches”.
The clash means some of the game’s best players won’t be available for the Pacific Tests as international football returns from a two-year break caused by COVID-19.
Josh Papalii, Stephen Crichton and Haumole Olakau’atu are among the players eligible to represent a Pacific Island nation and either Queensland or NSW.
“The last couple of years due to the pandemic have obviously left the international game pretty bare, with no fixtures being played and no opportunity for players to represent their heritage and their cultures,” Newton said.
“To be fair, it’s left a massive hole in the game for a significant portion of the playing group, as well as the fans, and now that it’s returning we should certainly be doing nothing but celebrating the return and making as many players eligible as possible. But on this occasion, given the scheduling of the international fixtures, it certainly does put players in a compromised position.
“We’ve seen that with a couple of players with uncomfortable decisions that they’re required to make, which is all but forcing them to choose allegiance of either Origin or their heritage.
“This effectively goes against what makes the international system so successful, which is having everyone available. These international fixtures were obviously brought in late into the season schedule. I think everyone is supportive of international matches, but this is why it becomes so critical – and (NRL chief executive) Andrew (Abdo) has committed to working through with us – to establish a genuine international calendar that allows us all to have a clear pathway and clear direction for international fixtures to be played, giving players the opportunity to make their own decisions a long way out, before being put in these types of situations.”
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Next Saturday’s Test between the Kiwis and Tonga in Auckland will mark the first elite rugby league game played on New Zealand soil since 2019.
The Warriors have called Tamworth, Terrigal and Redcliffe home since committing to a relocation due to the pandemic, and they will return for their first match in New Zealand since 2019 when they host Wests Tigers at Mt Smart Stadium in round 16.
“We welcome the opportunity to participate in the strategic planning of southern-hemisphere fixtures when it involves NRL-contracted and NRLW-contracted players, because the women are a big part of this, as well,” Newton said.
“That’s something that we need to take a leadership position on and have it where all parties are working through it, and we can establish some fixtures that are not going to be too onerous on the player.”
Newton reiterated the RLPA’s support for players torn between Test and Origin football.
“In circumstances like that, players know we’re always available … we’re always there to support the players. But on these types of matters, really, it’s going to come down to player choice, and sometimes there can be too many voices involved,” Newton said.
“So the most important thing is that any player that wants to represent their nation has our full support, and any player that wants to choose to play for their state, which Kotoni and Daniel have done – we are 100 per cent behind them on the decision, as well.”
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