WELFARE ISSUE: Sharks coach Shane Flanagan doesn't want his players involved in the NSW City-Country clash.
WELFARE ISSUE: Sharks coach Shane Flanagan doesn't want his players involved in the NSW City-Country clash. PAUL MILLER

Sharks' boycott adds uncertainty to City-Country clash

THE NSW City-Country fixture has taken another blow with Cronulla's Shane Flanagan joining the ranks of club coaches stopping their players from being involved in the game.

Flanagan and his Canberra counterpart Ricky Stuart vowed to protect their players, with Stuart calling the game at Mudgee on May 7 an exhibition match.

"It's obviously a four-day turnaround, so there's player welfare there," Flanagan said on Friday.

"We play on the Friday night (May 12), 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."

Flanagan has reluctantly agreed to his skipper Paul Gallen coming out of representative retirement to captain the City side at the request of coach Brad Fittler.

Flanagan said an injury to Gallen would greatly affect the Sharks' 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."

The representative weekend includes the Anzac Test on Friday May 5, the Pacific Test triple header featuring PNG, Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and England on the Saturday, and City-Country on the Sunday.

The premiers could have up to 12 players involved on the weekend, including Kangaroos Valentine Holmes and James Maloney.

Canterbury coach Des Hasler defended the decision to make his players unavailable for City-Country, 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."