Australia captain Cameron Smith has warned players may ask their union to intervene if clubs approve the Auckland Nines without consulting the game's stars.
NRL club bosses supported the $2.2 million proposal from New Zealand promoters and the Auckland Council at a meeting in Sydney on Wednesday and discussed playing it during the first official weekend of trials.
But the stakes got higher when Smith said the issue could soon become an industrial matter. So far, arguments over player burnout have amounted to an esoteric debate but Smith said opposition was such that the Rugby League Players Association could soon be called in.
''Maybe it will if people keep tossing up all these new tournaments and trying to throw all these games on board,'' the Melbourne skipper said in an interview at the Leeds Marriott, where he is preparing for the World Club Challenge.
''What the fans want, they want to see the elite players in the game for as long as they can. Do you want Greg Inglis to play five or six years and be burnt out? Or do we want to give him an opportunity to be in our game for 10 years?
''That's what I want to see. I want Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Benny Barba, to play as long as they can. You keep throwing these games on, on top, I think you're asking for trouble ... without giving somewhere else. If you want to have a nines tournament, if you want to play an all-star game, take some games out of the season, make it 20 rounds, play your Origin series, play your test series and you can have these extra four or five games at the start of the year.''
A statement issued after the NRL chief executives' meeting said the nines tournament would involve the 16 clubs playing across a maximum of 31 18-minute matches - or three to six matches per club - over two days.
The NRL clubs insist the tournament could not affect the promotion of the annual All-Stars match, which would remain the game's major pre-season event. Officials are also deciding on a proposal by a working group of clubs from both sides of the world to move the World Club Challenge to Australia in 2014 and expand it to a six-team competition in 2015.
Melbourne football manager Frank Ponissi has come up with a radical alternative proposal that would see an NRL game played in England for the first time when the WCC is in the Northern Hemisphere and a Super League game played Down Under the week after a championship bout in Australia.
''Everyone likes the concept as long as you don't create more games,'' Ponissi said. ''The two grand finalists from one hemisphere travels to the other. The two winners play in the World Club Challenge, the two losers play each other in just a game - a fundraiser or something.
''Then the following weekend, you have a double header: say, Melbourne v Canterbury in the first round of the NRL, in England, for points, and after that a Super League game at the same venue involving the champions from the previous year.''
- Sydney Morning Herald