Touted as an early contender for the premiership, Canberra must beat the Roosters on Thursday and hope the Sharks lose against Melbourne on Friday to ensure the simplest of passages to finals football.
Canberra and Cronulla could both lose, but The Green Machine would need the Storm to rack up a big score to bring them back into finals contention.
The Storm have rested seven players from last week’s loss to Parramatta against a Sharks side that’s in poll position.
“If you’ve earned the position of rest players this week, well good on you,” Stuart said.
“I was criticised last year for debuting young players who went out and beat the Sharks, there wasn’t too much criticism after it.
“If we want to start criticising coaches for resting players to give themselves the best shot to win the semi final, it’s pretty disappointing.
“Because you’re doing everything you could possibly can to win a semi-final.
“We’ve got a game that wants to expand... Don’t you think it’s a positive that we can actually rest players and given another young bloke an opportunity?”
Melbourne can wrap up the minor premiership on Friday night and if both Canberra and Cronulla have lost by then the door will be left ajar for the Gold Coast to sneak their way into the eight.
The Titans face the Warriors on Sunday knowing that if both the Raiders and Sharks have lost, they must overcome a 23-point differential on Cronulla.
The Gold Coast were seen as a realistic chance of ending their finals after they splashed close to $2.5 million to land David Fifita, Herman Ese’ese and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui but must now watch on anxiously as the Raiders and Sharks play earlier in the weekend.
Here’s what matters in Round 25 and how it could all pan out...
8. CRONULLA SHARKS 22pts, -24 points differential
Who do they play? Storm, Friday 6pm
What’s the simplest way they can make the eight? The Sharks have to win, and hope the Raiders don’t cover a 50-point differential.
And tell me where it gets complicated… If the Sharks lose, they will be praying the Raiders fall short and the Titans fail to cover a 23-point differential.
And if they miss out, what will they regret? The narrow loss to the Raiders in Round 2 and the shock defeat to the Bulldogs in Round 7. The Sharks may come to regret letting Chad Townsend move to the Warriors and will rue injuries to Ronaldo Mulitalo and Shaun Johnson.
What our experts say: The Australian’s Brent Read: “I expect them to finish eighth. I think Josh Hannay has done a brilliant job with that team. Craig Fitzgibbon is obviously still at the Roosters but he’s overseeing the roster. They’ve tapped some blokes on the shoulder and he’s handled that really well. It could’ve been disruptive for that club.”
9. CANBERRA RAIDERS, 22pts, -73 points differential
Who do they play? Roosters, Thursday 7.50pm
What’s the simplest way they can make the eight? Beat the Roosters and hope the Sharks lose.
And tell me where it gets complicated… If the Raiders lose, they can still make the eight if the Sharks lose by 50 points or more and the Titans fail to get up. The Sharks can also win, but the Raiders would then have to make up a big points differential to secure a finals spot.
And if they miss out, what will they regret? Where do you start? Narrow losses to the Storm and Manly over the last two weeks, plus throw in the carnage of the Warriors defeat in Round 3 and the capilaution against the Cowboys in Round 7. Add in the George Williams debacle, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad’s injury, issues with Josh Papalii, Joe Tapine and Josh Hodgson along with Jack Wighton’s indifferent form.
What our experts say: The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Kent: “I think the Raiders are a strong chance. Melbourne will turn up even though they are resting players and they’re a top-four side. The Sharks are a bottom-eight side. There’s a clear difference there and the Raiders can get the Roosters because the Roosters are so smashed around. They lost Joseph Manu and he has got so many points in him and you look at that side and ask: ‘where will the points come from?’ That puts the Raiders right up there.”
10. GOLD COAST TITANS, 20pts, -47 points differential
Who do they play? Warriors, Sunday 2pm
What’s the simplest way they can make the eight? They beat the Warriors and the Sharks and Raiders lose. The Titans would have to cover a 23-point differential to leapfrog Cronulla.
And tell me where it gets complicated… Nothing really, they have to win. If they don’t they are out.
And if they miss out, what will they regret? Go back to last week against the Knights when they really missed a cool head to score a field goal. There’s also Justin Holbrook’s selections, with the coach seemingly changing his team most weeks and taking the brave gamble of axing Ash Taylor for Tyrone Peachey for the last two games of the season. The Round 14 loss to the Roosters and the collapse against Manly in Round 15 will prove costly.
What our experts say: League legend Cooper Cronk: “They’ll learn a lot, the Titans, I won’t rule them out yet because a few things can go their way. To win a competition a lot of things have to go right. You have to compete in every game and you have to win a couple in which you didn’t play really well in. That’s the thing the Titans will learn this year. The senior players have to be more consistent over the course of the season.”
You can all the action of the NRL Round 25 live on TVWAN Action and on the PlayGo App
Story first published on Fox Sports