Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart is coming under fire from the NRL community after an extraordinary post-match attack on Panthers young gun Jaeman Salmon.
Part of a new-look Penrith halves combination due to the absence of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, Salmon helped his side cement top spot on the NRL ladder with a 26-6 win in Canberra, that severely dents the Raiders chances of making the finals.
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However, Penrith's 20-point triumph was overshadowed by the ongoing feud between the rival clubs, with Stuart labelling Salmon a "weak gutter dog" during a fiery post-match press conference.
It followed a controversial second-half incident where Salmon appeared to kick Raiders hooker Tom Starling in the groin and the face while being tackled - one of a number of reports from another fiery clash.
Panthers forward James Fisher-Harris was sin-binned for a high-shot on Canberra's Ryan Sutton that ended his night with a failed HIA, while Raiders winger Nick Cotric served 10 minutes in the bin for a similar hit on Dylan Edwards.
However, it was Salmon's kicking out against Raiders interchange Starling that left the Canberra coach incensed after the match.
"I've had history with that kid (Salmon), I know that kid very well," Stuart told reporters.
"He was a weak-gutted dog as a kid, and he hasn't changed now, he's a weak-gutted dog person now.
"Fisher-Harris ... they're accidents and in this collision game, I understand it.
"Where Salmon kicked Tommy, it ain't on."
The explosive comments were put to a stunned Penrith coach Ivan Cleary, who threw his support behind his young half.
"I don't think I need to respond to those comments," Cleary told reporters.
"I know what Jaeman is like, he's valuable in our club and we love him and that's all that matters to us."
Channel Nine league reporter Danny Weidler said he spoke to Stuart after the press conference and claimed the coach was refusing to back down from his fiery swipe.
BREAKING: Spoke to Ricky Stuart - he is not backing down from his stunning comments. They clearly come from a very personal place. Interesting to see if his comments are fully explored by NRL or just taken on what he said at the media conference. @9NewsSyd @NRLonNine
— Danny Weidler (@Danny_Weidler) August 6, 2022
Channel Nine commentator Phil Gould - who revealed that Stuart’s son had played with Salmon in Penrith’s junior system - said he was left gobsmacked by the coach's attack.
“Certainly Ricky on reflection saying he’s not apologising and he’s standing by what he said is rather extraordinary because I’ve never heard a coach say anything like that at a press conference.
“I can’t imagine anything that would make me say something like that at a press conference.
NRL greats say Ricky Stuart was out of line
Discussing the incident on Fox Sports' coverage, NRL greats Corey Parker and Cooper Cronk said they both thought Stuart was out of line.
“Ricky Stuart has been coaching in the game for 20 years and absolutely disgraceful comments from Ricky Stuart,” Parker said.
“To publicly humiliate a player regardless of the situation on the field. That will be dealt with.
“He has got a position of power Ricky in the head coaching role. He has got a position of leading these men that look up to him to mentor in the right way and he has completely got that wrong.
“The words that he has used in regards to Salmon are completely out of line.”
Cronk agreed by insisting that Stuart should have just left it for the NRL's match review committee to deal with the incident as it sees fit.
“Yep, Salmon did something wrong on the field and that will be looked at and that’s done with let the judiciary deal with it,” Cronk said.
“But I just don’t like that an opposition coach has publicly and personally had a crack at an opposition player. I just don’t like the look of that.
“The other part of this too is that Ricky is one of the greatest players of our game and I’m not sure what the history is. I have got no idea. But Salmon has played 40-odd games of first grade.
“The balance of power is a bit out of whack there. I think he could have kept his emotions in check and played it another way."
Penrith's win came after they survived an injury scare when fullback Dylan Edwards, playing his 100th NRL game, pushed through pain to put in a clinical display.
Edwards, who had earlier looked ginger after being drilled by Jordan Rapana, responded perfectly with a try on 54 minutes, breaking Canberra's spirit and capping his 155m, six-tackle bust display.
He got plenty of help, particularly through back-up playmaker Sean O'Sullivan, covering Cleary in immaculate fashion with a stunning three-try assists and some kicking excellence.
The result is a crushing blow to Canberra's finals hopes because they now sit a game back from the eight-placed Sydney Roosters, although all four of their remaining matches are against bottom-eight teams.
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