The NRL’s best players are bracing for one of the longest seasons in recent memory as they return from the Christmas break to pre-season training.
Clubs returned this week from the summer break, with most players from the Four Nations squads making their first appearance since the end of last season.
The resumption in training comes just over four weeks out from next month’s Auckland Nines, while the home World Cup won’t reach its conclusion until December 2.
It means there will be more than 300 days between the season’s first game and its last, with a three-and-a-half week gap between the grand final and World Cup – which is likely to be used for training camps – as the only real break from games.
While a number of Australia’s representative stars are unlikely to play in the Auckland Nines, the All-Stars match is one week later and Brisbane and Cronulla are likely to play their best in the World Club series in England two weeks later.
Broncos, Queensland and Australian second-rower Matt Gillett said on Wednesday he expected players to have to be managed through the season.
“I’d love to be playing out there every week,” he said.
“But sometimes that’s not our choice. Sometimes our coaching staff and trainers have other things in mind and they want to rest you just to free the body up and just to mentally refresh you.”
Representative players from teams who reach the grand final could potentially play as many as 37 games in the year – and that’s not including the pre-season matches.
However representative star Darius Boyd said he wasn’t concerned about the potential workload.
“I played 33 or so last year so if it’s 35 this year and you play them all then what’s two more games really,” he said.
Boyd also indicated he believed the Broncos’ representative players would also be amongst the best to deal with the heavy workload despite their pre-season trip to England.
“Wayne (Bennett) is one of the best at it,” Boyd said.
“Club footy we’ve always got a lot of time off here. We’re lucky enough that we play a lot of Fridays and Thursdays to get those longer turnarounds and weekends off.
“They do look after us here.”