Stuart set to unleash unusual halfback plan

Despite injury-interrupted 2019 campaigns, Canberra and Cronulla are looming as genuine premiership threats to the big three but Ricky Stuart doesn't see their round-14 blockbuster clash as pivotal to their top-four ramifications.

The Raiders and Sharks, along with Newcastle, appear to be the main challengers to the Storm, Roosters and Rabbitohs for the title.

Cronulla have won four of their past five games against Canberra, including their last six games at GIO Stadium, and will have Josh Morris and potentially Shaun Johnson back for Thursday night's showdown.

Despite the pre-game hype building at an intense rate, Stuart knows the 80 minutes on Thursday night won't make or break his team's chances of a home final.

"It's still really early in the season, we're just past halfway and there's still a lot of footy to be played.

"The first half of the season has shown if anybody tried to pick where their footy team was at today it would have been a difficult job.

"Injuries play a major role to that and we're in the middle of the rep season so there's a big story to be told going into the back end of the year."

Canberra will enter the clash off the back of their third shutout of the season, when they held the Wests Tigers scoreless to help consolidate fourth place on the ladder.

Stuart said the joy his side has in shutting down opposition players is one of the biggest changes in the team's culture of the past year.

"You see some belief definitely, they're enjoying their defence," he said.

"We used to have a football team here that really enjoyed their attack, these boys here are getting a buzz out of their defence.

"When you get unhappy with poor execution in defence and you see the buzz in the boys when there were good contributions in defence."

Aidan Sezer was praised by his coach for his efforts without the ball last weekend and revealed more about the future of the halves partner of Jack Wighton.

"Aidan did a good job last week and I'm going to give Sam [Williams] the week off, he's not going to play for Mounties," Stuart said.

"It's important, Sam's had a really big start to the year and physically I want to look after him because we're going to need him again when he does come back into the team I want him to be nice and fresh.

"Aidan will get another spell at some stage, again to get a bit more of that energy you can get from having a week or so off, so that's my plan at the moment, hopefully there's no injuries."

Josh Papalii has been on lighter duties this week, with Wednesday's captain's run the only training session the Queensland forward has been asked to complete.

However, Wighton and Blues teammate Nick Cotric has been asked to get through as much of normal training as possible in the lead-up to the Cronulla clash.

"Jack's OK, Nick's OK and they're both young boys who are learning how to play rep football and club football, it's not just about getting rest, you have to learn how to play and train a little bit tired," Stuart said.

"But I have also have to be smart with how I look after their physically."

Despite the series-opening loss and last year's Blues winger Tom Trbojevic now being available after returning from a hamstring injury, Stuart backed Cotric to retain his position for NSW on June 23.

"They've only got a short preparation for this game the Blues so it'll be interested to see what Brad [Fittler] does for a very important game," he said.

"I know Brad really likes what he's got in Nick, but he's a long-term Blues player, whether he's picked in the next Origin or not.

"He's only a young guy and he's still finding his position in the NRL here, he's got the wonderful ability to play centre and wing.

"I thought he did a great job for the Blues last week under some really trying situations."