State of Origin is here and although the focus of the rugby league world now turns to the annual interstate series, there is a subtext being played out at NRL level that will have a huge say on who goes on to lift the Telstra Premiership trophy at the end of the year.
This is the time of year when the medical staff of each club comes into their own because although it is vital to be playing your best football as the finals approach, it is just as important to have a fit and healthy squad. It’s no coincidence that whoever has the fittest squad is usually the side lifting the trophy come grand final day, which makes this Origin period the most critical period of all.
Trying to get their players through and keeping an eye on each individual has become a huge focus for clubs now so they can attack the back end of the season. This is why we now see coaches such as Brisbane’s Anthony Griffin openly admitting he will rest his key players over the coming weeks in order to ensure they are refreshed.
That would never have happened when I first started playing. Back then it was a sign of toughness to be able to back up after an Origin game but now there is more responsibility shouldered by the clubs who realise there is no sense in risking a star player by giving their all in an Origin match, then putting them through the grind again 48 hours later.
It’s hard to explain just how intense Origin is in every way – the toll it takes on you isn’t just physical, it’s also mental. It’s never easy to go through the rigours of Origin and then back up a few days later. That’s obviously something some Origin players have to deal with but it certainly does take its toll – especially coming out of Game Three when you’ve given your all.
Physically we handle it but it is probably the mental side that is quite taxing.
Whenever I came out of Game Three it would take me a couple of weeks to feel normal again. In my time at the Broncos we used to always experience a bit of an Origin slump where it takes its toll, but that’s all part and parcel of playing at that level. That’s a requirement.
The other factor for those that do back up after an Origin game is what day their club game is scheduled for. I always preferred to back up on the Friday night because I found that the longer I waited, the more that soreness and fatigue would start to settle into the body. But everyone is different. Some guys would prefer a few days’ rest before they played.
The thing you’ve got to consider too is that after Origin, you might not get back to the hotel until close to midnight and then you’ve got the coach’s meeting and assessment of the game, you see your family – so you’re looking at two or three o’clock in the morning before you get to bed. Then you’ve got to be up early the next day to get back into recovery mode as quickly as possible. There isn’t much time for rest!
And of course, for all players in the NRL, it’s usually around the halfway point of the season, around Origin, that they start to carry some injuries. Again, that’s just part and parcel of the toughness and length of our season. Everyone has bumps and bruises and it becomes about getting through week to week – whether or not you can nurse those through.
Rest assured that the coaches and medical staff of all 16 NRL clubs are now on high alert because this State of Origin period will make or break their seasons.