Canberra have defended their decision to rest $4.5 million worth of talent for this Saturday’s clash against Cronulla despite the Raiders remaining in contention for a top four placing, per The Sydney Morning Herald.
The club used the same tactic last season, with the fresh legs playing a role in their push to the grand final as the NRL denied the league would follow in the AFL’s footsteps with a pre-finals bye week.
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The Raiders will welcome four debutants for their round 20 clash, with Jarrod Croker, Jordan Rapana, Jack Wighton, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Josh Papalii, Elliott Whitehead and John Bateman all being rested for the game.
Canberra chief executive Don Furner brought light to the fact that reserve players would have no other playing option in 2020 with State Cup and under-20 competitions halted for the year.
“The only way to develop NRL players is by playing them in the NRL,” Furner said.
“Your under-20s have a whole year of missed development. They would normally have played 20-odd NYC games where you get to see how they go. We have a duty to those players as well as to those guys who are on contract. They need to be rewarded for all they have done this year.
“They go a whole season of training without getting a game. How do you develop them? How do you find out about them? How do you know if they are going to be NRL players? Where do they sit in your roster for next year?
“All of those decisions have to be made by a professional sporting club. It’s OK for commentators to have their say, that’s the way it goes.
“It’s the only way for us to do it.
“Everyone is talking about our young Fijian [Semi Valemei]. He only debuted two or three weeks ago. He scored two runaway tries and could be the next [Maika] Sivo.”
Furner was quick to remind many about the Raiders success last season.
“Last year we played the Warriors here at home in the last round,” he said. “We rested a few and got beat and made the grand final. After a long year, [Stuart] was happy to give those guys a rest.
“It’s the coach’s decision and we back him. If we end up fifth, we won’t get a break or a second bite at the cherry.
“With the wear and tear on bodies and the massive amount of injuries this season, well that’s why you have to rotate them.
“These [new] guys are keen as mustard.”
NRL boss Andrew Abdo said the league remains in uncharted territory.
“This is an unusual year – 18 uninterrupted rounds without a bye,” he said.
“Coaches and clubs are being strategic about how they rest players and provide game time to the broader squad ahead of the finals given that there hasn’t been an opportunity to play second tier this year.
“I don’t believe this would be an issue in an ordinary season given the structure of two byes and Origin. We will continue to monitor and think about all these matters in the off-season.”
Melbourne have also named a half-strength side to take on the Dragons this weekend, resting 12 players.
The Storm won’t be able to move up the ladder and will have a shorter turnaround heading into the first week of finals.