COLUMN: Only the players can halt the increasingly dire fixture backlog

Look, here’s the black and white of it all: we play too many games of rugby league in this country.

The debate surrounding player welfare and fixture congestion has – rightly – reared its ugly head again this week after most Super League clubs were made to endure another double-header weekend.

Those on Twitter who have criticised players for complaining and saying they should ‘try a proper job’ are, unfortunately missing the point.

This is a mentally-taxing, physically-demanding sport these guys play. And it isn’t just 80 minutes a week; it’s preparation. It’s recovery. It’s training. It’s making sure you can be the best you can be every single time you get out of bed in the morning and preparing your body to be thrown from pillar to post on the training field.

So to ask players to do it more often than they should is unfair, and it shows a complete lack of contempt for player welfare. The fact this double-header was done to allow Wayne Bennett to host a training camp in Dubai which never even happened makes it even more frustrating.

But it’s not down to the Rugby Football League to stop this. There’s only one group whose voice is sufficiently loud enough to be heard by the game’s governing body – and that is the players themselves.

The onus rests on the warriors playing the game, as unfair as it sounds, to try and make a change. Last week, the Rugby Players Association ‘unanimously rejected’ proposals to extend the rugby union Premiership season to 10 months. You know where I’m going with this now, surely.

Without an entity looking after the players and giving them a voice, they will remain silent. They will remain without any influence – and in fairness, given what these guys do for the sake of entertainment, that really isn’t right.

I saw some inspiring stuff from Leeds’ Stevie Ward, a great talker and a forward-thinking player and person, after their defeat to Widnes on Monday. He was backed up on social media by people such as team-mate Adam Cuthbertson, who all said that it’s time to change things and get a players union put together.

It needs a handful of players brave enough to make the leap to go out and get it done. Hopefully there are some out there who think, ‘y’know what? We’ve had enough of being treated like this.. it’s time to change things.’ If anyone does do that, I’ve no doubt that there would be dozens of players on board and looking to support a movement. And the media – the supposed sworn enemy of so many – would help too. Because they can see that it’s gone too far.

Because until any of them do, nothing will change. And the same argument and the same debate will happen every single year. The demise of League13 in October 2015 left the sport with a gaping hole in its player welfare and player representation pool.

If anything has to be the catalyst to spark change, it has to be the second of two gruelling double-header weekends.