Players’ association fires back over NRL’s ‘lack of respect’ in fatigue drama

The players’ union have shot down NRL claims that the fatigue factor has not increased, accusing head office of lacking both awareness and respect.

As the NRL moved to distance new rules from the rise in foul play and scoreline blowouts, arguing they could prove it was not an issue in the game, the union’s response was swift..

In a public statement, the NRL claimed the figures would clear up “misconceptions about the changes in the game” over the past two seasons.

There have already been a record number judiciary charges for contact with the head and neck this year, with more such incidents cited in the first 10 rounds than the entire 2020 season.

The common suggestion has been that fatigue has caused those dangerous shots from tired defenders, as the speed of the game increased.

However in the data released by the NRL, the league argued that handling errors remained steady and showed players were not suffering from fatigue.

They also claimed the average ball-in-play time had dropped from last year, while an increase in tries has given players more time to recover during stoppages.

But that attracted a strong rebuke from the Rugby League Players Association, furious it wasn’t able to see and test the data first.

“Players have provided the RLPA with direct feedback throughout the season regarding changes to the level of fatigue and match demands,” the RLPA said.

“(This) has been shared with the NRL.

“While it may not have been the intention, dismissing the feelings and experiences of players as ‘perception’ in this statement lacks awareness and respect for those playing the game.

“The need for transparency has never been more important and the RLPA will request further data from the NRL and clubs before confirming our position and making any recommendations for change.”

The NRL’s figure showed handling errors remaining consistent at 22 per match, compared to 21 from 2019.

Average ball-in-play time has dropped to 55 minutes, compared to 56 minutes in 2020 and 54 minutes in 2019.

There are also less play-the-balls compared to last year, while players are running marginally less metres than in both 2020 and 2019.

However, more of the running is at a higher intensity, with 299 metres per game covered at speeds of 20km/h, an increase from 255 metres in 2019.

Judiciary records have also been broken in the past two rounds in terms of incidents charged, with the NRL having previously stated they believe players don’t try to hurt each other.

“While there’s a perception the players have never been more fatigued, the data simply does not support that assertion,” the NRL’s statement said.

“Players who are fatigued are more likely to make errors – yet the error rate over the last three years has remained flat.

“The error rate today is almost the same as the error rate before the new rule changes.”

NRL bosses have also maintained this week the introduction of rules such as the set restart are not to blame for blowouts, with the average margin of 17.96 this year the highest in the NRL era.