The Test between New Zealand and England in June at Denver’s Mile-High Stadium is being buried under a barrage of criticism from NRL clubs less than a day after the NZRL confirmed the historic match.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart and Manly counterpart Trent Barrett spoke out against the timing of the international fixture, while CEO Cameron George declared Warriors players would only be made available if 100 percent fit.
The Kiwis-England clash is scheduled on the same weekend as the standalone State of Origin match and Pacific Tests in Sydney.
But George has major reservations over the potential impact on the Warriors – who could supply up to nine players to the Kiwis – with the club facing an arduous road trip to take on the North Queensland Cowboys the weekend prior.
After the representative weekend, where several Warriors are also in line to play for Tonga and Samoa, they have a short turnaround before hosting Cronulla at Mount Smart.
Seemingly setting an early tone for mass withdrawals, George told Radio Sports Breakfast: “It’s a significant hurdle in terms of travel. You couldn’t have picked a worse week to put it on for us, because if you are going to pick the furthest [trip] in the NRL for us, it’s Townsville.”
“And who do we play two days before we go to Denver? It’s the Cowboys in Townsville. They have to go to Townsville, come back and travel to Denver two days later, come back [from Denver] on the Tuesday and then we play the Sharks on the Friday night,” George continued.
“We have an obligation to the Kiwis organisation and we will always support them naturally.
“At this stage we are supporting the Test but our players will be assessed on a welfare basis and if they are not 100 percent right, they won’t be going.”
Raiders trio Jordan Rapana, Josephe Tapine (New Zealand) and Elliot Whitehead (England) are front-line contenders for the Test, while Sea Eagles enforcer Martin Taupau is a near-certainty for the Kiwis if fit and clubmates Addin Fonua-Blake and Lewis Brown are fringe candidates.
Their coaches were unified in questioning the scheduling – despite the NRL taking a backseat to the three-match State of Origin series every year.
“When you’ve got promoters running your scheduling in regards to international games, the question should be asked how much is the promoter making out of all this?” Stuart fired to the AAP.
“I hear every year player welfare is important and, yet again, we’re not thinking about the player.
“If we’re going to be fair dinkum about welfare, be fair dinkum.”
Stuart made no suggestion the Raiders will block their players from travelling to the U.S. for the match, however.
Barrett, speaking at a press conference during a whirlwind trip to Christchurch on Wednesday, echoed Stuart’s concerns.
“I’m pretty surprised, I think the timing of it there’s a few issues around releasing players at that time of year to go that far away,” Barrett said.
“I’m all for growing the game, but we’ve got to be sensible as well about looking after our players. I’m certainly a supporter of international football, but given the time of year and the risks around taking your players that far and getting them back, [then] putting them on another plane to go somewhere else – [it’s] coming into an important time of the year.”
“As a coach you tend to be a bit selfish with your own players but I think we’ve got to be a bit sensible about how we go about it all as well.
“Hopefully I don’t have too many players in there,” Barrett joked.
Manly and Canberra both play on the Saturday following the rep weekend. St George Illawarra and Parramatta are disadvantaged by playing the Thursday night fixture after the Origin and Test schedule.
Besides both being likely to provide players to the second Origin match four nights earlier, the Dragons may have Gareth Widdop (England) and Jason Nightingale (New Zealand) on a plane back from the States, while Eels stars Brad Takairangi and Manu Ma’u could also be returning from Kiwis duty.
Ironically, Takairangi threw his public support behind the Test.
The travel factor and the short turnarounds aside, trepidation over player welfare centres on the venue for the Test. Denver is dubbed ‘Mile-High City’ because it sits one mile above sea level, which can place enormous strain on athletes – particularly those that play at near sea-level throughout the season, as every NRL team except Canberra (elevation 577 metres) does.