Fittler's frank advice to Thurston
Rugby league legend Brad Fittler has weighed into the debate on scheduling by telling North Queensland co-captain Johnathan Thurston to stick to playing and forget any idea of a reduced competition prior to his retirement.
Speaking on NRL.com's new Friday Fever program, Fittler was asked his opinion on Thurston's recently floated idea to reduce the NRL season to 22 rounds, play the All Stars game in grand final week and playing a sole World Club Challenge game in Dubai each year between the NRL and Super League champions.
Having played 336 NRL games over 16 seasons not to mention 38 Tests and 31 Origin games, Fittler said the nature of the television rights deal and the income that generates for players means that any major changes to the rugby league calendar in the next seven years are unlikely.
"Johnathan's a player, he should be playing," was Fittler's immediate response.
"I like some of his ideas, there's no doubt about that, but the 22 rounds, that's just not going to happen because they're (television networks Channel Nine and Foxtel) paying a billion dollars.
"When you sell a game for a billion dollars it comes with how many rounds there are so until this contract's over [at the end of the 2022 season], unless Foxtel and Channel Nine want to reduce them, then that won't happen."
Player burnout is a pressing issue presently for the Rugby League Players' Association with ongoing negotiations with the NRL to minimise the number of five-day turnarounds from 2017 and onwards.
From next season the NRL season will be reduced to 25 rounds with one Origin match to be played on a Sunday night as part of a representative weekend that is designed to limit the impact of the game's elite players being unavailable for their clubs.
As two of the premier players in the game and senior members of Queensland and Kangaroos representative teams, Thurston and Cameron Smith have been outspoken on the load on players. Thurston made the agonising decision to skip the Indigenous All Stars game in February so that he could play for the Cowboys in the World Club Challenge in England but according to Fittler, their grievances are largely predicated by the sheer fact that they are near the end of their glittering careers.
"The game of rugby league, when you finish playing, you're going to be sore," Fittler said.
"Johnathan is at the back-end of his career, he's getting sore, that's why we can't play until we're 50. That's just the nature of what we do.
"They're all in pretty good nick. Johnathan looks super fit at the moment. Cameron Smith looks super fit, they all look super fit so go and play footy. Leave the rest to the other people.
"Go and play, you're going to be sore, you're getting old, you're at the back-end.
"That's just life. That's what footballers do."