Cronulla's Shane Flanagan has become the latest NRL coach to threaten to pull players out of next week’s controversial NSW City Country fixture due to welfare issues.
On the same day Canberra counterpart Ricky Stuart vowed to protect his players from what he claimed was an exhibition match, Flanagan said he wouldn’t be risking his stars in Mudgee.
“The Des one, it’s obviously a four-day turnaround so there’s player welfare there. And it’s the first I’ve heard of Ricky pulling his players out,” Flanagan said on Friday.
“We play on the Friday night, so it’s a concern for us as well.
"We won’t be letting any players play that are carrying injuries into the game.
"We could pull players out there as well.”
His comments come despite skipper Paul Gallen coming out of retirement to captain the City side at the request of coach Brad Fittler.
Flanagan reluctantly agreed to Gallen’s decision this week, admitting the Sharks had a responsibility to promote the game in regional centres.
The defending premiers could have up to 12 players involved across the representative weekend, including Kangaroos Valentine Holmes and James Maloney.
Flanagan said an injury to Gallen would greatly affect their season.
“But I also see a bright side of it too - promote rugby league in the country.
"As a senior club, we’ve got a bit of an obligation to develop rugby league, whether it’s in our area or out,” he said.
“So part of Paul’s reason for this is to put a bit of profile to the game and if he does that, and if he gets out of it injury-free, it’s a good outcome for everyone.”
Hasler defended the decision to make his players unavailable for the annual clash, claiming he had sought approval from the NRL, NSWRL and players union.
However he softened his stance on the issue on Friday, saying he was open to letting his inexperienced players be selected in teams to be announced on Monday.
““I spoke to (NSW coach Laurie Daley) and for Canterbury players, it’ll be a case-by-case scenario. If they want to pick Canterbury players, they can,” Hasler said.
“For some players, getting as far as City-Country might be as far as they get.
"So you don’t want to exclude those players’ dreams and you certainly don’t want to trample their dreams.”
But while Hasler was reluctant to release players for the City-Country game, he had no issue with allowing his stars to play in Origin II despite a two-day turnaround into a round 16 match.
The Bulldogs face the Warriors in Auckland just two days after the Origin game in Sydney.
“Different spectacle, different game, different players,” he said.