JT wants players’ welfare to come first
DUAL Dally M winner Johnathan Thurston has warned rugby league's powerbrokers they are playing Russian roulette with players' careers by pressuring them into backing up for their NRL clubs just days after brutal State of Origin games.
Thurston has played a record 28 successive Origin games since 2005.
The only player to appear in every game of Queensland's record eight straight series wins, he sounded alarm bells in Origin camp on the Gold Coast, saying unless those in charge of the game adopted a proposal similar to the blueprint recently put forward by master coach Wayne Bennett, NRL clubs should start bracing themselves to lose more and more star players to Origin-related injuries.
The Cowboys great said he feared nobody was listening to the players' pleas despite repeated warnings from its senior stars and leading coaches that the health of the game's best players was being put at risk, with demands and expectations on them reaching the "borderline ridiculous" stage.
Bennett, who has won seven premierships and coached Queensland Origin teams involved in some of the closest and fiercest series ever staged, shares Thurston's concerns for player welfare.
He has suggested playing all three Origin games over a one-month period mid-year, with each state picking extended squads of 22 to 24 players to rotate through the series.
The NRL competition would be divided into split rounds during the interstate clashes, with representative players being given a minimum of seven days rest before turning out for their NRL clubs.
Thurston said at the moment, players felt obligated to back-up through pride for their club and their fans no matter how smashed up they were.
"I know all the boys pride themselves on backing up for their club. I know I do. That's been passed down from Petero (Civoniceva) and Locky (Darren Lockyer) and those guys. I just don't know why we have to do it. We've got these powerbrokers in the game, surely we can come up with a better system," he said.
"Having the three games stand alone, without a doubt in my mind, is the way to go."
Game one in Brisbane last month left a trail of carnage not previously seen in 34 years in the Origin arena.
It included Cooper Cronk (broken arm), Josh Morris (ruptured PCL), his twin brother Brett (dislocated shoulder), Billy Slater (AC joint), Cameron Smith (low grade ankle sprain), Beau Scott (neck), Jarryd Hayne (fatigue), Daly Cherry-Evans (knee), Anthony Watmough (bicep), Trent Hodkinson (broken nose), Paul Gallen (neck) and Nate Myles (hand).
"I've never been part of such a brutal Origin game before," said the 31-year-old Thurston, who backed up for his NRL club three days later in a clash in which his Queensland teammate Cameron Smith also played for Melbourne despite being advised to rest his ankle.
Queensland has three stars, Greg Inglis (ankle), Slater (shoulder) and Cherry-Evans (knee) all facing tough decisions on their fitness, but it's not just a State of Origin jumper weighing on their minds.
A significant financial carrot of $30,000 for each Origin game goes into their retirement fund.
Rival Origin coaches Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley have also come under fire from Rugby League Players Association president Clint Newton, critical of them for not allowing senior players like Thurston, Smith and NSW hooker Robbie Farah to attend a summit in Sydney last week where the issue of Origin scheduling was a hot topic of debate.
Newton endorsed Bennett's Origin blueprint, saying it was the best proposal so far for player welfare.