Leading coaches Wayne Bennett and Paul Green have both questioned the timing of star players speaking out on the eve of the Telstra Premiership Finals Series about conditions they are hoping to have met in a new collective bargaining agreement.
Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston has been the most publically vocal player to speak out about the ongoing negotiations between the NRL and the Rugby League Players Association, with threats of boycotts of major awards nights and Grand Final Week functions a possibility.
At the heart of the players’ demands are an abolishment of five-day turnarounds, greater annual leave entitlements and the establishment of a retirement fund.
While neither Bennett nor Green wished to be drawn on the validity of what the players are asking for through the RLPA, they were united in condemning the timing of the public offensive.
“I am just sad it has happened this week,” Bennett said at the completion of the Broncos’ final training run of the week.
“We have got the showcase of the season in front of us – the finals – and we are all talking about player disputes now.
“It is pretty untimely. We could have waited another month and it wouldn't have made any difference.
“I just hope they drop off as quickly as they started and everybody can talk about the great game that we have got and what is in front of us the next month.
“I don’t think they want to deliberately damage the finals but that is what they are doing.
“I just hope they pull their heads in and not damage the product they talk so dearly about and means so much to them.”
Despite his captain’s active involvement Cowboys coach Paul Green is not concerned that his star playmaker, Johnathan Thurston, will let the events of the past few days affect his preparation.
Thurston and Storm captain Cameron Smith were both absent from the annual finals captains’ call on Monday and Green said it was time for the two parties to begin productive talks to find a resolution sooner rather than later.
“I’d be disappointed if that became too big a distraction right now given the great games we’ve got this weekend. It’d be nice to for us to be talking about that,” Green said.
“The timing is everything and we need some leadership in that area from the game.
“The players have probably got a few frustrations – whether they’re warranted or not I’m not sure – but everyone needs to sit down and talk as adults and hopefully sort things out.
“I certainly think that striking on such an event as the Dally Ms is probably not the way to go but the players probably just want to be heard.
“We need some leadership there from the top and I’m sure that will happen.”
In the wake of last week’s loss to the Storm, Bennett was critical of the suggestion players were preparing to make more demands on the NRL and broadcasters for better conditions and on Friday said it was the clubs who needed greater assistance.
“Of course they do, for the game to be strong and grow,” Bennett said when asked whether the clubs needed more money.
“My fear is that if we don't do things properly this time we are not going to have this game in 10 years' time. It can slip away pretty quickly I can tell you.
“It would be ideal for all the clubs to be funded so they can pay their way and produce the things they have to deliver on to keep the fans coming to the game.
“That would be my No.1 decision.”