Stuart blames NRL for Cam Smith's demise - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Stuart blames NRL for Cam Smith's demise

By Steve Jancetic and David Beniuk 26/09/2008 06:52:11 AM Comments (0)

Cronulla coach Ricky Stuart claims the NRL's inaction over the grapple tackle is to blame for the drama-charged build-up to Friday night's NRL preliminary final against Melbourne.

Preparations for the grand final qualifier bordered on the farcical on Thursday, with Storm and Sharks officials instigating a series of tit-for-tat media cancellations before the NRL was forced to step in.

The cause of the angst - the two-match ban handed to Storm skipper Cameron Smith for a grapple tackle at the NRL judiciary on Wednesday night.

The Storm were livid at Stuart's inflammatory comments ahead of the hearing.

Eventually both teams begrudgingly fronted the media on Thursday afternoon - at the insistence of the NRL - where Stuart took aim at the governing body.

"This could have all been stopped three of four years ago," Stuart said.

"I remember (Brisbane coach) Wayne Bennett talking about this quite strongly in a coaches' conference three years ago.

"It could have been stopped then but we haven't had anybody to put a stamp on it and I'm not talking about the referees or (referees boss) Robert Finch, I'm not talking about (chief executive) David Gallop.

"There's other people in those positions that could have stopped this three years ago and Cameron Smith wouldn't be in this position."

Asked how these unnamed `other people' could have put a stop to the practice, Stuart said:

"By doing their job."

Storm officials claim Stuart went beyond the realm of his job description when he backed the contrary conduct charge handed down to Smith on Monday for his tackle on Brisbane forward Sam Thaiday.

The Storm believe Stuart went out of his way to incriminate Smith ahead of his hearing when he told a Sydney radio station "he's been flirting with it all year so the time comes when you pay the price".

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy, a former teammate of Stuart's at the Raiders in the late 1980s and early 90s, returned serve in his newspaper column when he highlighted several examples of grapple tackles the Sharks had committed this season.

"Perhaps he'd want to take a look in his own backyard before casting dispersion (sic) at others," Bellamy wrote.

"With the stones he has thrown at Cameron, he might want to buy a brick house."

Tensions between the two sides were already expected to be a fever pitch on Friday night following an eventful match-up earlier where rival props Ben Ross and Brett White were sent off as the Sharks prevailed 17-16.

But for all the huffing and puffing of the last few days, Stuart said there was no way the incident would drive a wedge between he and Bellamy.

The two were teammates in Canberra's 1990 premiership-winning side.

"I think the problem we've got is we're both similar," Stuart said.

"There's 20 years of friendship there. I don't think a grapple tackle's going to step in the way of our friendship.

"We're both very competitive men being in a great position now trying to do the best that we possibly can for our clubs."

Bellamy has been working overtime trying to come up with someone to replace Smith at hooker, the club keeping its cards close to its chest as it closed the doors on its final training session.

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.

The Storm also brought three travelling reserves with them to Sydney, with one of Sam Tagataese, Brett Anderson or Aitken to get a run in the final 17.

Sharks skipper Paul Gallen passed a fitness test on his injured thigh at training on Thursday morning, the Test lock moving freely as he made his way into the Sydney Football Stadium for a final walk-through.

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