Cronulla coach Ricky Stuart says he doesn’t believe this week’s scrutiny over the grapple tackle will influence referee Tony Archer in Friday night’s NRL preliminary final against Melbourne.
The controversial tackling technique has dominated discussion in the lead-up to the grand final qualifier with Storm skipper Cameron Smith rubbed out for the finals for his head-wrenching hit on Brisbane forward Sam Thaiday last weekend.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy took umbrage at Stuart’s insistence that Smith be suspended for the tackle as he highlighted several Cronulla tackles he believes could also have come under the microscope.
Asked if he thought Archer would react to the scrutiny by cracking down on grapple tackles at the Sydney Football tomorrow night, Stuart said:
“Tony Archer doesn’t concern me.
“He’s a very strong referee, he has got a strong personality and I think he’s the right man for the job tomorrow night in regards to the environment he’s under,” Stuart said.
“I don’t think the referees will over react at all this weekend.”
As well as engaging in some less than friendly banter with Stuart, Bellamy has been hard at work trying to find a replacement for Smith.
Veteran utility Matt Geyer is the favoured option to fill-in at dummy-half, but former Sharks lower-grader Russell Aitken and even Test fullback Billy Slater are under consideration.
Sharks skipper Paul Gallen is considered a certain starter after his corked thigh emerged from yesterday’s final training session unscathed.
Tonight’s winner will meet the victor of tomorrow night’s second preliminary final between Manly and the New Zealand Warriors.