Eels coach Brad Arthur has been criticised for picking a specialist halfback in Jake Arthur on the bench over impact players like Bryce Cartwright and Nathan Brown against the Raiders.
With Mitchell Moses expected to play, Arthur admitted there is a chance Jake might not get on the field, with Braith Anasta and Paul Kent believing it is a risk to carry him on the bench.
“Jacob Arthur has been named on the bench to play that No.14 role,” Anasta said on NRL 360.
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“He is a genuine No.7 or half. I find it a bit interesting. I would probably rather have Bryce Cartwright or someone like that on the bench.
“Is this the right call or not?”
Mark Carroll believes the Eels should have made changes after being smashed by the Panthers in week one of the finals.
“I can’t believe they haven’t changed the squad,” Carroll said.
“They got belted by the Panthers. For me they need changes. It is sudden death.
“The creativity of Bryce Cartwright. I have got big wraps on Bryce. On his day he can be a difference.
“And Nathan Brown, the energiser man. Get him running from the back fence and hurting people. It is sudden death.”
Carroll believes the Eels can’t afford to carry Arthur on the bench if he doesn’t get on the field.
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“No, I feel sorry for Jacob,” Carroll said when asked if he should be there.
“One day he got three minutes. I thought I was watching rugby union. He goes on there to get his cap. What is he going to do in three minutes?
“He has no impact. Unfortunately the young kid he has got the same name as his old man.
“I really feel sorry for him because I have seen the same thing with Bozo’s (Bob Fulton) kids.
“Unfortunately the flak this guy cops, but there is other players knocking on the door to take his spot.”
Benny Elias agreed the Eels need power forwards to match the Raiders pack.
“No way in the world,” Elias said when asked if Arthur should be on the bench.
“It is very hard to have a coach’s son in your team because everyone just loves your kids.
“They should no way in the world have him on the bench.
“You should have a forward. This is big games. You don’t get second chances.”
Phil Rothfield believes Arthur will mature into an excellent first grade halfback in a few years, but now is not the time to play him off the bench in an elimination semi-final.
“I’m not going to bag Jake Arthur because I think he is a year or two away from being a really good first grade NRL halfback and a regular one,” Rothfield said.
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“I think the criticism of him on social media was way out of order early in the season.
“Having said that he did play poorly when Mitchell Moses went off the other night. He made a couple of blues.
“I thought Brad Arthur would have considered doing something else with the bench after the result of that game.”
However, Brent Read believes it is a smart call from the coach to pick cover for his most important player in Moses, especially after his concussion last week, which sparked a huge debate.
“I think it is the right call because he has trained all year for that role to back up Mitchell Moses,” Read said.
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“But if Mitchell Moses plays you don’t need him,” Anasta interjected.
“But surely there is a concern over Mitch Moses?” Read hit back.
“But you are not going to carry an extra player just because a guy has been concussed before,” Anasta said.
“Why not? Why wouldn’t you have cover for Mitch Moses in case he gets injured or goes off for concussion?” Read said.
“Brad said he may or may not be used, so he is willing to not use him.”
“But that could be detrimental,” Anasta fired back.
Paul Kent believes it is strange that no other team in the NRL carries a specialist halfback on their bench.
“That makes it a high risk play because you have got a four man bench rotation,” Kent said.
“If you are only going to play three of them against the Raiders pack, who are the key to Canberra’s victory.
“So if you are only going to run on three forwards and then keep a fourth player there on the odd chance that your halfback goes down injured.
“There is no other team with a pure halfback sitting on their bench just in case their halfback goes down.”
However, Read believes Cartwright’s lack of form may also be a contributing factor.
“But teams have carried outside backs on the bench,” Read said.
“With due respect to Bryce Cartwright he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.”
“But outside backs can play wing and centre,” Kent countered.
Rothfield agreed the Raiders have a stronger bench on paper because they have better balance.
“I think when you look at the match-ups in this game we can say the Canberra bench is stronger,” Rothfield said.
“They have a genuine No.14 in Tom Starling.”
“He is a hooker,” Read interjected.
“Where else does he play?”
“Where else does Jacob Arthur play?” Anasta interjected.
“He can play five-eighth and he can play half and he can play No.13 if he needs to,” Read replied.
“He is a pretty physical kid. He is not a small kid. He is a big kid.”
“I don’t think he can play No.13,” Anasta said.
“He could do it, but you would rather have Nathan Brown or Cartwright.”
“So what happens if they lose Mitch Moses?” Read said.
“But any team can lose their halfback,” Anasta shot back.
“But we have seen that Dylan Brown isn’t the guy that can take charge of a team and direct him around the field. That is why he struggled at times last year.”
Rothfield was quick to rubbish any claims of favouritism on the coach’s behalf.
“One thing I will say is this is not nepotism,” Rothfield said.
“He is going to be a terrific player. I don’t think Brad Arthur would be picking him each week without a tick off from the senior leadership group and I’m talking Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson.”
However, Anasta couldn’t understand how the Eels can afford to carry a player, who might not get on for a crunch semi-final.
“Brad Arthur said that he may not play, that he may not get on the field,” Anasta said.
“In an elimination final how can you carry a player on the bench that possibly may not even get on the field? I just don’t get that.”
“I suppose you back the other three guys to get the job done for you and he is there if you need him,” Read replied.
“That is high risk,” Kent interjected.
“It is a high risk play.”
“Are you saying if Bryce Cartwright was on the bench he would definitely get on the field?” Read said.
“Definitely,” Anasta replied.
Rothfield believes the physicality of the game against the Raiders leaves the Eels vulnerable to HIA’s.
“What if they lose a couple of players to HIA?” Rothfield said.
“These are real battles these finals and they are very, very physical and this one will be the same. I think it is a high risk play.”
Anasta believes the selection of Arthur shows their lack of a genuine utility option on their bench.
“I think it shows they have a lack of depth there if this is their only real option,” Anasta said.
“Their lack of depth in terms of outside backs or utility players.
“I feel bad for Jacob Arthur and I’m not by any means knocking him down.
“It is just it is a big game and a big final.”
Kent pointed out it is the position he plays and not the player that makes Arthur’s selection surprising.
“It is the position,” Kent said.
“It is any team playing a specialist halfback on their four man bench in the expectation that you have got to get your halfback taken out of the game for a certain period.
“I can’t recall anyone having done this anywhere all season. I can’t remember anyone picking a specialist halfback outside of Parramatta.”