Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin says his Test and Origin stars will have no say in whether they back up from representative games over the coming two months as he tries to nurse them through the remainder of the season.
Griffin controversially omitted his Test players – Darren Lockyer, Sam Thaiday, Justin Hodges, Ben Hannant and Jharal Yow Yeh, along with the no-longer-required Gerard Beale – from his squad when the sides for tomorrow night’s clash with Melbourne were named on Tuesday and has promised that most will be regularly ‘rested’ over the coming months.
But wary of their desire to help the Broncos continue their fine start to the 2011 season he told NRL.com that all decisions on whether players back up will be taken out of their hands.
“I know that the players, if you asked them or really pushed them to play, they would always try and back up so I don’t really think it’s up to them,” Griffin said.
“Our management in terms of our medical people and performance people, it’s their advice that we’ve got to act on to get the players through the season.
“Our staff are second to none and if they’ve got an opinion that Justin Hodges can’t play two games in two days, then that’s what is going to happen. We can’t play him.
“It’s not a matter of us resting guys for the sake of resting them. The guys we’re speaking about – Lockyer, Thaiday and Hodges – physically the risk of them playing two games in two days is just too great.
“Someone like Jharal Yow Yeh who is a young winger, if he plays a Test or an Origin and two or three days later thinks he’s right to play again then I’ll listen and take some advice but the other guys, it’s purely an injury-prevention measure that we’ve got to take with them.”
Griffin has enjoyed a near perfect start to his NRL coaching career after taking over from Ivan Henjak in February, with seven wins from eight games. However, the representative season will bring some new challenges for the rookie head coach.
The Broncos have historically struggled through the middle stages of the season with so many players involved in the big games and Griffin is expecting a similar battle in 2011.
But he said his main priority was to ensure all players were on deck for the run into the finals later in the year.
“It’s a measured approach to make sure we stay injury-free and can get through 26 weeks of the year,” he said. “I suppose too that we’ve given ourselves an opportunity because of the way we’ve started to be a bit more relaxed about it.
“It’s the challenge now to play some of our younger guys that haven’t been exposed too much to the NRL. We’ll obviously live and die by that over the next two months.”
Asked if he felt the side was well prepared to get through the coming months relatively unscathed, Griffin said: “Well, I’d like to think so. I don’t know – I guess I’ll find out in the next two months! But the boys are training well and they’re excited about the opportunity in front of them – starting this week.
“Whether we’re going to be good enough to get the results we want out of it, we’ll find out but our priority is that in eight weeks’ time when this [the reps season] is all over, we’ve got our team back together and they’re fit.”
Griffin said that he had actively sought the advice of former club and Origin coaches in managing the representative season but insisted former Broncos coach Wayne Bennett wasn’t one of them.
“I consider myself a good friend of Wayne but at the moment we’re both chasing the same thing so I’m not sure whether his advice would be that good at the moment!” he laughed.
“There are a couple of different people I speak to from different ends of the spectrum as well – different personalities – and I get a lot out of their advice, so that’s been some help.”
The Broncos may yet welcome back some of their Test stars against what is expected to be a strong Melbourne side tomorrow night, although TAB Sportsbet has instilled the Storm as comfortable $1.50 favourites, with Brisbane at $2.60.
Griffin said the clash would provide an opportunity for some of his younger players to stake a claim for regular inclusion.
“The attitude of the players has been good and their preparation has been strong – our guys have trained well to this point,” he said.
“I don’t know if we can win the game but I’m sure we’re going to be competitive.”
Late NRL news:
• Giant Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei could make a shock return from injury against the Gold Coast tomorrow night, in a huge boost for the club. Vatuvei has missed the past seven games with a knee injury but has travelled to Australia with the squad.
• Manly fullback Brett Stewart is expected to finally make his return from a hamstring injury that has limited him to just three games in 2011.