NRL player burnout is again in the spotlight after Johnathan Thurston became the ninth Australian Test incumbent to pull out of the Four Nations squad.

Johnathan Thurston’s withdrawal from the Kangaroos’ squad for the Four Nations campaign has again turned the focus squarely onto the issue of NRL player burnout.

The North Queensland playmaker has withdrawn from coach Tim Sheens’ squad, to be announced on Tuesday, due to a shoulder complaint.

But it is an injury that does not require surgery.

Thurston was one of nine incumbent Australian Test players unavailable for the six-week series beginning later this month.

Thurston joins Billy Slater (shoulder), Brett Morris (shoulder), Matt Scott (shoulder), Nate Myles (biceps), James Tamou (neck) and Matt Gillett (shoulder) as confirmed withdrawals from the tournament from the Australian side that defeated New Zealand 30-18 in the Anzac Test in May.

NSW captain Paul Gallen also was not considered due to a drugs ban while Darius Boyd (personal issues) is also unavailable.

Adding to the selectors’ dilemma, other possibles – Justin Hodges (knee), Josh Dugan (thumb), Trent Merrin (shoulder), Will Hopoate (leg), Dave Taylor (neck) and Andrew Fifita (arm) – are also unavailable.

Sydney Roosters duo Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck pulled out of the Kiwi squad named earlier this week due to burnout.

“It was a really difficult decision to have to make but in the end, the doctor really took it out of my hands when I saw him yesterday,” Thurston said in a statement on Wednesday.

“You never want to miss playing rep footy, and I’m very proud of my record in that area, but this time there’s no other option.

“I’d like to wish the Kangaroos all the best for the Four Nations.

“I’ll definitely be watching every match they play and cheering them on.”

Thurston comments come on top of confirmation from the Rugby League Players’ Association that the heavy workload on players continues to be one of their most pressing concerns.

Player rotation, like that which was used in Australian cricket, has been raised as one way to reduce burnout.

Thurston revealed his worries about the workload of the game’s elite in comments to AAP earlier this week

“I think the schedule is too much,” said Thurston.

“But it’s what we’ve got and the RLPA are doing their best to reduce the amount of games.

“It needs to be both ways.”

The game’s best players can be burdened with up to 30 games a year, with a 24-match NRL season, a four-week finals series, a three-game State of Origin series, the Anzac Test and a four-fixture Four Nations schedule including the final.

The load doesn’t look like being lifted anytime soon though, with the game’s governing body recommitting to the pre-season NRL All Stars fixture next season, alongside the Auckland Nines.

Daly Cherry-Evans came off the bench in the Kangaroos last Test, a 30-18 win over the Kiwis, and is the most likely candidate to partner Cooper Cronk in Australia’s halves.

NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson took a knee injury into Canterbury’s grand final loss to South Sydney and is likely to undergo surgery, ruling him out.

That could also open the way for Canterbury’s Josh Reynolds to play alongside Cronk, or even Brisbane’s Ben Hunt, or one of Sydney Roosters duo Mitchell Pearce or James Maloney, who have all been named in the train-on squad.

Either way Sheens will be forced to blood a number of Test rookies over the coming weeks.

Sheens will name his squad on Tuesday ahead of Australia’s opening Four Nations game against the Kiwis in Brisbane on October 25.