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‘The packed-up pre-season schedule is ridiculous’

‘The packed-up pre-season schedule is ridiculous’ Written by GREG PRICHARD , February 13, 2016

The NRL pre-season is now as crowded as a Tokyo train in peak power.

The league’s schedulers are like the people whose job it is to push commuters on to the trains until they are squashed in like sardines  – they’ve used every bit of space available and there’s no room left in which to move.

Remember when the Charity Shield match between South Sydney and St George Illawarra was the big-ticket pre-season item? Then the World Club Challenge became a semi-regular and eventually annual affair.

Now, the Charity Shield is not much more than just another trial match and the WCC is the main event within a three-game, World Club Series format. North Queensland, Brisbane and Sydney Roosters are all headed to England to play Super League clubs.

Then you’ve got the two-day Auckland Nines tournament, which is three years old now and involves the 15 other NRL clubs joining the Warriors on their home turf for four or five days, and the All Stars game.

That is all on top of other trial games the clubs are playing to work on combinations and match fitness.

It’s not just too much, it’s way too much, especially since there never seems to be any indication the NRL is looking at shortening the season proper itself. The pre-season schedule is most damaging on the clubs, who get their star players pulled away from them and also have to cater for the Nines when they would rather concentrate on the 13-a-side game.

Well said Shane Flanagan, the Cronulla coach, who expressed his concerns in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday. Flanagan was frustrated that injuries from the Nines and commitments to the All Stars had left him struggling to field a side for a trial game against Manly on Sunday. The side he does field won’t remotely resemble the one he would like to field, to start getting the Sharks into the groove as a unit for the premiership kick-off in the first week of March.

“It’s about getting combinations right, putting out a competitive team for a trial,” Flanagan said.

“You can’t plan your pre-season because you don’t know how many players you’ve got in it (the All Stars game). If it’s only three players, you can cop that. But when you have another three going in, it’s hard.”

Flanagan said the All Stars game should be scrapped because it had become outdated due to the busier pre-season schedule. He suggested that, as an alternative, clubs could contribute to an Indigenous team to compete in the Nines.

Any suggestion to do away with the All Stars game is wading into a sensitive area, but the bottom line is that the pre-season is now packed ridiculously tight and it is time to start heading back in the opposite direction a bit. Something has to give in time for next season.

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