The NRL needs to dramatically re-think its scheduling to avoid player burnout and unnecessary injuries, says Penrith coach Ivan Cleary.
Player welfare is again a key NRL issue especially in relation to burnout of the game's elite players following the success of last year's World Cup and the inaugural Nines.
With a Four Nations tournament scheduled for the end of 2014 and the NRL attempting to fit the Nines, Indigenous All Stars fixture and a possible expanded World Club Challenge into the pre-season next year, coupled with 26 premiership rounds and State of Origin, Cleary says a balance needs to be found.
"It is a hard one but I think, personally, we shouldn't have representative tournaments every year at the end of the year," Cleary said.
"Maybe have a one-off game, Australia versus New Zealand, straight after the grand final.
"So basically if you are going to have one, it needs to be finished a lot earlier.
"We are squeezing so much out of them (the players).
"The game is getting harder and we are playing more.
"You don't want to take away from the international game but having it every year is too much.
"We are giving them longer rest but that means they get less of a pre-season."
Cleary said he was a supporter of international football, the Nines concept and also a more structured pre-season but warned that if the NRL didn't find a solution, teams could be forced to all but ignore showpiece events like the Nines.
"The Nines was a great event but you have to question not only the timing but the nature of the game," he said.
"I'm not too sure of the answers, we maybe need more players over there and four games on the last day is too much.
"It was a great event but we got three big injuries out of it - you can't ignore that.
"That Jarrod Mullen injury (a hamstring avulsion) is an interesting one. You don't see that these days really because the players prepare so well.
"If injuries happen at the Nines, you can understand why clubs won't send their best players.
"There might be some other answers around the trials, if you could get maybe multiple games in one venue.
"Play in Auckland for example, a big stadium, four or five games over the weekend and draw a big crowd.
"We need to be creative in the way we promote the game but still keep player safety a priority.
"I'm all for structure of the pre-season but everyone has to finish earlier.
"We can't have all our best players dragging on.
"It's a hard one; we have to really be on it all the time."
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