Kemp: State of Origin is killing NRL and players

TONY KEMP
Last updated 05:00 25/05/2014
Brent Tate
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STRANGLEHOLD: State of Origin generates plenty of money and crowds. But does the NRL’s regular season suffer as a result?

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OPINION: Reports suggest Origin generates annual profits of around $14 million for the game. But at what cost?

The State of Origin period is a critical time of the year for many NRL clubs but perhaps none more so than the Warriors.

With not a single player named for either New South Wales or Queensland - at least for game one - the full-strength Warriors have the opportunity to nail some teams when they are missing their stars over the next eight weeks.

This is their chance to claw some ground back on teams sitting above them on the competition ladder and officially consign their forgettable performances earlier in the season under former coach Matt Elliott to the waste basket.

During the Origin period - not including last night's clash with the Titans, of course - the Warriors will square off against the Knights, Rabbitohs, Broncos and Panthers.

If they can stay free of injuries, they should start each match as the firm favourites and will be disappointed if they fail to win more than they lose.

That said, they have been scheduled two byes while Origin is on, limiting the damage they can inflict on teams reeling from the representative season.

If you look at the NRL ladder, it's already clear this is going to be an exciting season with a lot of teams jostling for those final two top eight spots in the latter rounds.

Ultimately, it's going to come down to points differential, so the Warriors need to make sure they are scoring plenty of tries too.

Every year around this time as many teams count the cost of having their best and brightest ripped from their clutches and thrown in a blue or maroon jersey, a debate about the importance of Origin surfaces.

Make no mistake, the battle between "state versus state and mate versus mate" is big business.

Reports suggest Origin generates annual profits of around $14 million for the game.

But at what cost?

For eight weeks a year, some teams are absolutely decimated. Take Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk out of the Melbourne Storm and winning games for that champion outfit suddenly becomes a lot more difficult.

It's no secret the NRL plays second fiddle to Origin.

But what some of the game's powerbrokers fail to understand is how their product is seriously diminished when the best players are kept on the sidelines and out of the sides that pay their wages all because they need to be wrapped in cotton wool ahead of their representative games.

It can't keep going on like this. Something has to give.

We hear a lot these days about player welfare and the smart thing to do during the Origin period would be to schedule it across three standalone weeks.

The NRL should put its regular season on hold and allow the game's best players to suit up in blue or maroon for three matches over as many weeks.

That way, players wouldn't be expected to sit out of regular season matches or, worse, back up for their clubs just days after playing Origin. It also means the quality of the product that is NRL football would remain high.

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Players often talk about being burnt out and it won't be long before their voices turn into a collective shout.

They may not realise it but the players hold all the ace cards here.

They should demand better working conditions and, if they don't get it, the prospect of going on strike - something we see happening in American sports all the time - should be a serious consideration.

It's time they were heard and the NRL put their welfare ahead of the bundles of cash that can be made by exploiting them.

On another note, it's hard to say anything positive about the Warriors' decision to sign Canberra Raiders centre Matt Allwood. He's hardly a marquee signing and they seem to have got it all wrong again.

What sort of decision does it send to young New Zealanders or members of the club's under-20s team that their bosses have felt the only way to bolster their centre stocks for next year is to sign a bloke who has come through the Canberra system?

I wish I was surprised.

- Sunday News

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