World Cup stars given option to 'pause' annual leave

World Cup stars will be given the chance to hold over annual leave entitlements and return to pre-season training with their clubs when they see fit to have adequate time to prepare for the NRL season next year.

The international game's showpiece will ensure the NRL's best players will have a shorter time to prepare for their club commitments in 2018, given the game's senior figures are entitled to eight weeks of annual leave.

It will leave stars such as Storm duo Cameron Smith and Billy Slater returning to pre-season training in early February - just five weeks before the start of their NRL campaign - with Australia expected to reach the World Cup final on December 2.

In between all clubs will schedule trial games and there is a testimonial planned for Smith and Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston at Suncorp Stadium.

The player workloads and balance committee, co-chaired by the NRL's head of football Brian Canavan, has been working with the 16 clubs to ensure their representatives are provided adequate rest and then ample conditioning before playing in pre-season games.

And players will be able to "pause" their leave rather than taking it in one continuous block given their end of season commitments with the World Cup.

"Based on the complexity that exists around the international schedule and the NRL season, leave arrangements that were agreed to under the previous collective bargaining agreement needed to be reviewed," Rugby League Players Association's general manager of player relations Clint Newton said.

"We've gone from players having uninterrupted periods of leave in the past to what we now call 'pausing of leave'. That comes down to the players making a conscious decision to do what is in the best interests of the international game, the clubs and the fans by making such a compromise.

"There has also been a great amount of support from the clubs and their staff because they see the value of effectively managing workloads.

"With the ever-increasing level of professionalism in the high-performance departments at clubs, it's important that they are involved in the process which has been the case since the introduction of the workloads and balance committee.

"The positive outcomes regarding player workloads are an example of what can be achieved when you bring together the various stakeholders in the game and keep them engaged throughout the process.

"Without the great support of the NRL and Brian Canavan, who co-chairs the workloads and balance committee, this space would have been even more challenging than what we have already experienced in a complex Rugby League World Cup year."

Kangaroos elite performance manager Troy Thomson was also part of the committee, which was established midway through last year with an eye to the 2017-18 summer.

It shapes as one of the busiest off-seasons in the game's history, forcing the scrapping of the Auckland Nines as well as the All Stars having a hiatus in 2018.

There are concerns about the viability of the World Club Challenge given the extra demands on players involved with the World Cup, making the issue of player burnout more delicate than ever before.

"We are currently working with all stakeholders across the International and NRL teams to ensure that players who will feature in this year's Rugby League World Cup have their entitlements met regarding the recommended amount of time-off leading into the 2018 season," Newton said.

"It's a big space in terms of the varying level of entitlements for certain players and the numerous stakeholders involved in the process.

"However, it's important that we aim for consistency across the playing group to ensure that every player has certainty and clarity around their leave entitlements.

"We have been able to achieve a number of positive outcomes in this space by involving various stakeholders in the discussion."

This story World Cup stars given option to 'pause' annual leave first appeared on Brisbane Times.