Ricky Stuart has leapt to the defence of good friend Craig Bellamy’s resting policy – even if it ends his own team’s finals chances – arguing the NRL’s expansion plans will be tested with dozens of stars putting their feet up.
Stuart’s Raiders need to beat the Roosters on Thursday night and rely on the minor premiership-chasing Storm toppling eighth-placed Cronulla less than 24 hours later if Canberra is to salvage a finals spot from a turbulent season.
Bellamy will be missing eight first-team regulars – including Cameron Munster, Josh Addo-Carr, Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch – as his side prepares for the finals.
But the man who has the most to lose from Storm’s approach said he doesn’t have an issue at all with it, arguing title heavyweights the Storm, Rabbitohs and Eels can do what they want with finals spots locked in before the last round.
“I think if you’ve earned the position to rest players this week, well, good on you,” Stuart said. “I was criticised last year for debuting so many young players – and we went out and beat the Sharks. There wasn’t much criticism after it.
“If we want to start criticising coaches for resting players to give them the best shot of winning a semi-final, it is pretty disappointing because you are doing everything you can to win a semi-final. If that means resting players, you’ve earned the opportunity to do that throughout a very tough season.
“We’ve got a game that wants to expand and go and find another club in Brisbane. Don’t you think it is a positive that we can rest players and give another young guy a chance to play first grade?”
The three suitors to be the NRL’s newest team – the Brisbane-based Dolphins, Firehawks and Jets – have all fended off accusations there is not enough talent to prop up another franchise.