Players’ and coaches’ opinions are valid and should be listened to insists Leeds Rhinos pack star Carl Ablett

St Helens forward Jon Wilkin.
St Helens forward Jon Wilkin.
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AS SOMEONE with more than 250 games under his belt I’d like to think I know a bit about rugby league.

But in the 13 years I’ve been playing at the top level I don’t remember anyone from the Rugby Football League (RFL) asking for my – or any other player’s – feedback on the way the sport is being run.

Hull FC coach Lee Radford.

Hull FC coach Lee Radford.

In Australia there’s a row going on between the players’ union and the NRL over the way income from the game is distributed.

I’ve read that there’s even talk of a player strike during this year’s World Cup. I hope that doesn’t happen, but Down Under they have a strong players’ union and I think that’s something we are lacking here.

Jon Wilkin and some others set one up a few years ago, League 13, but it didn’t last long.

There were issues with funding and not everybody was behind it, but talking to people at Leeds and other clubs, I think players are starting to realise they need a strong voice.

Sky Sports' Super League pundit, Phil Clarke.

Sky Sports' Super League pundit, Phil Clarke.

The debate over this year’s two ‘Easters’ – when we’ve twice played three games in eight days – has brought things to a head.

The clubs approved the bank holiday double-header we’ve just been through, but I don’t know a single player who was in favour. Or a coach either, come to that.

Players are the game’s biggest asset and we are as keen as anyone to see the best-possible product on the field.

Better games mean higher attendances, more sponsors and better wages, so it is in our interests to see the sport thrive.

Plus, most of us have been playing rugby league since we were six or seven and we love the sport.

It is time we had a say in what is happening in our game and I would support a new players’ union.

It would have to be properly-funded and we’d need everyone to get behind it, because it is not going to work if there’s only two members at one club and a handful at another.

But if we could get it off the ground I think it would be good for us as players and a positive step for the sport as a whole.

I am not advocating industrial action or anything like that, but I think we should be asked for our opinion and that’s on everything concerning the game, not just the fixture list. At the moment there’s a lot of speculation about whether the Super-8s will continue and if we should have promotion and relegation.

Players have a huge stake in that and we should have an opportunity to give our views.

At the moment decisions are made by the ‘RFL bigwigs’ and 12 chief executives. It needs to be wider than that.

The chief execs may know how to run a business, but I don’t think they – most of them anyway – understand what modern-day players go through and what it takes to prepare for a game and to recover from a pile-up like we’ve just had.

I would like to see an open debate on everything involved in the sport and that would mean consulting administrators, coaches, players, sponsors, corporates and fans. Everyone has a view and we all deserve a say.

I read an article the other day by the ex-Wigan player Phil Clarke, who is now a pundit on Sky Sports.

He wants pain-killing injections to be banned before matches. Lee Radford, the Hull coach, made a comment about that after their win over Wigan last week.

He said five of the Hull boys were jabbed up before the game and if injections were banned he would not have been able to get a team on the field.

I agree with him.

It is a few years since Phil played the game and things have moved on.

I know the doctors here would not give an injection if they thought it would make an injury worse. The don’t inject for the sake of it. I understand concerns about addiction to painkillers, but, in my experience, they are necessary – especially when you are being asked to play 30 or more matches in a season.

Without them a lot of players wouldn’t be able to do their job.

It’s not an ideal situation, and everyone is used to playing through a bit of pain.

But I think players are mature enough – and doctors are smart enough – to make their own decisions.

Joel Moon

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