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Meninga calls for State of Origin Schedule overhaul

QLD Coach. Mal Meninga; Getty Images
MAL Meninga has added to the pressure on the NRL to suspend the regular competition and play State of Origin over three consecutive weekends.

The Queensland coach yesterday called for an urgent overhaul of the schedule, following fears from leading voices in the game, including Craig Bellamy and Phil Gould, that Origin is killing the overall rugby league product. 

Meninga said it was time the NRL put the welfare of rugby league's elite players first. 

"The time has come for State of Origin to stand alone," Meninga said. 

"Looking at the players during the first couple of days in camp with the Queensland team, what struck me most is that we have a lot of physically and mentally fatigued men who have some very big challenges in front of them before this season is over. 

"Take a look at Cameron Smith. Every game he players he carries the responsibilities of being the team captain, one of if not the best player, and he plays a key position that is not only important, but tough and physically demanding as well. 

"Cam started this season by travelling to England with the Melbourne Storm for the World Club Challenge. He returned home to fly to Brisbane to play in the All Stars match. 

"He then has his NRL matches, a Test match against New Zealand, and now an Origin series to contend with, including this week's series decider in Sydney. 

"I think it is time that we looked at suspending the competition for the duration of the Origin series. 

"We are at the stage now where the welfare of the players must come first, and we need to be conscious of the load we are placing on them, especially as the ones most affected are the best players in the game. 

"The game needs to think smarter about the management and maintenance of its biggest asset, the playing group." 

The Australian Rugby League's Commission have used the recent five-year billion-dollar broadcast deal to explain why any change to the schedule is not possible. 

But The Sunday Telegraph has learned that the Commission has the power to re-jig the schedule to suit. 

Meninga claimed the NRL had to implement the most popular alternative to the current eight-week Origin timetable, which is for Queensland and NSW to meet over three consecutive Saturdays with the NRL competition suspended. 

"Suspending the NRL premiership for three weeks to run Origin as a stand-alone competition is the sensible way to go to protect our players and clubs," Meninga wrote in his Sunday Mail column. 

"I know the immediate response is going to be about our responsibility to the broadcasters, and I think that is fair enough, too. 

"But there are plenty of different products that the NRL could be offering to fill those TV timeslots with rugby league content while the competition proper was in hiatus. 

"We saw it work well with the Tonga-Samoa Test going prime time on the Test weekend this year. After Origin II, the Broncos players in the Queensland team came out of 10 days in camp to have two successive away games in Auckland and Melbourne. 

"It is a ridiculous workload. 

"And it is not just the players that are suffering, NRL clubs are being punished as well. 

"Those clubs are paying their star players money for nothing. If a player misses a game for the club because of rep commitments, then 1/26th of his salary should be freed up under that club's cap to be spent somewhere else." 

The Sun
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