NRL boss Andrew Abdo has defended each club’s decision to rest players ahead of the final round, which could see up to $12 million worth of stars sit out.
As well as the league trialling some experimental new rules in two of the dead rubber games - where all four sides are out of finals contention - the final round will also be devoid of some 29 players who would normally be turning out for their sides.
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Second-placed Melbourne have led the charge with an unprecedented 12 changes, while Canberra have sat out nine of its players despite still being in top-four contention.
Melbourne started the week at $1.06 favourites, but have drifted out to $2.10 outsiders against a struggling St George outfit for Sunday’s game.
Many would argue that both teams have earned the right to rest players after a gruelling 18 straight weeks of footy and with their spot in the finals assured.
Abdo said the unprecedented climate, due to the coronavirus, has called for understanding at the end of the season.
“This is an unusual year,” Abdo said.
“18 uninterrupted rounds without a bye. Coaches and clubs are being strategic about how they rest players and provide game time to the broader squad ahead of 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.”
Paul Kent rips into NRL clubs resting talent
However, NRL 360 co-cost Paul Kent has taken aim at clubs in an explosive rant, insisting it is "totally unacceptable" and should be outlawed by the game's law-makers.
“I think the issue is broadcasters pay a lot of money for high quality talent,” Kent said on NRL 360.
“To rest as many players as the Raiders and the Storm have, I totally understand why they have done it, but the NRL needs to step in and say totally unacceptable.
“These clubs are being paid $2 million a week for this game.”
From the clubs' perspective the moves make perfect sense; why risk a star player getting injured in a dead rubber match and being ruled out of a crucial finals clash.
Fellow league journalist Paul Crawley said coaches should have the right to pick whatever side they choose, and the NRL shouldn't have the power to stop them.