Lessons learned from the past two NRL finals campaigns have convinced Parramatta coach Brad Arthur to rest up to half a dozen stars this weekend and give his fringe players some valuable game time.
The Eels are an outside chance of a top-fourth berth but must defeat Penrith on Friday and then rely on Manly – a skinny $1.06 with bookies – to lose to North Queensland.
But Arthur is eyeing a much bigger prize than simply a morale-boosting win over the Panthers a week out from the finals.
“I would much rather have all my players available and fresh for the first week than simply get to the finals and not be strong enough to advance,” Arthur said.
“The last couple of years we’ve been in the finals, last year we had four injuries against Melbourne in week one, including Fergo [Blake Ferguson], Maika Sivo and Marata Niukore, then we lost Michael Jennings on game day against Souths.
“That meant we had to bring in four new players who hadn’t played footy in a few months because of the COVID situation.
“This time we’re making sure we’re giving everyone some game time.
“We played Keegan [Hipgrave] and Stoney [Ray Stone] on the weekend and left Oregon [Kaufusi] out. The last few weeks we’ve been trying to give everyone some game time so if something does happen, none of them are coming into the finals underdone.”
Gutherson hobbled from the field in the second half on Saturday night during the upset 22-10 win over Melbourne and later quipped the injury was not serious and nothing that could not be fixed “with a few quiet beers”.