Never before have seasons been so long, with pre-seasons cut down by the Auckland Nines and the end of season test matches. Throw in the never ending Origin series, a rep weekend, and the intensity of the modern game, and players and coaches can be forgiven for looking for any chance to rest that is available.
The Storm has rested players in round 26 in previous years. Last year they had the Minor Premiership on the line in their final round clash with the Sharks, so they went in full strength, but in years gone by, the big three have either sat out the game or have had early showers.
Their game against the Raiders has no effect on the finals make up so I certainly don’t see the likes of Smith and Cronk playing 80 minutes, if at all.
The Sharks may also be tempted to rest players should results not go their way. With a Sunday kick off, and a finals position assured, should the Eels beat the Bunnies, the Sharks may rest Graham, Fifita or Holmes.
If the Bunnies do manage to upset the red hot Eels, giving the Sharks a shot at a top four spot, there’s little to no chance the Sharks rest players en mass.
They still may be tempted to leave the injured Wade Graham out and may push Jack Bird’s return back another week. It may be worth the risk of possibly even losing to the Knights to ensure two of their strike players are fit for the finals.
BUT this poses the question, is resting players and giving them the 80 minutes off, worth breaking up momentum before the finals kick off?
I’m not a huge believer in momentum per say. The Sharks won last year’s title on the back of one win, two weeks out from the finals kicking off, surrounded by a string of losses.
The Cowboys lost their week one finals clash in 2015 yet lifted the trophy on Grand Final Day.
To win the Grand Final, you just need to put together three wins in a row when it matters the most. Momentum doesn’t play a huge role in this.
To rest a player of Cooper Cronk’s magnitude and experience would pose almost no risk at all. He’s more than good enough to slot right back in after taking a week off.
So too Wade Graham, who could use the week to rest his lower leg and be at 100% for a round one clash in the finals. The Sharks game plan would not fall apart over a week, nor would Graham be rusty.
I do, however, believe resting large amounts of players a week before the finals isn’t ideal. Players with experience can come back in after having their feet up for a few days, but sides need to be somewhat firing before the finals.
Their combinations and plays should be set, and every player should know their role.
They don’t absolutely need to be winning every week, but much like the Sharks last season, they should have worked out their route to victory and be ready to fire.
If I were Bellamy or Flanagan, or any other coach in the position to rest players, unless they were injured, I would resist the temptation.
If one or two star players were nursing somewhat serious injuries, I’d certainly limit their workload and rest one, but there’s no chance I’d be blooding youngsters now at the expense of disrupting combinations.
For mine, the Sharks need to be at 100%, perhaps Graham aside, and need to put the Knights away, whether or not their top four hopes are still alive. A win here is vital for confidence and belief.
As for the Storm, well they could drop their four biggest stars for this weekend’s clash yet not miss a beat against the Eels or Sharks next weekend.
As always, it’s best for sides to play their best available sides, but I wouldn’t at all be shocked to see a late withdrawal or two, or at least players headed to the pine early.