Saturday 17 March 2018 / 09:36 PM


The 2017 NRL premiership is just three days away, and there’s an unprecedented amount of prime beef sidelined by injury (and very little of that is the Nines’ fault, by the way) and suspension, along with some late transfers, with clubs scrambling to plug worrying holes in their team sheets.

We’re taking a look at the players unavailable for Round 1 and beyond, and how their clubs will look to replace them.


The Broncos’ only confirmed absentee is Tom Opacic, out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. The impressive 2016 rookie’s absence leaves the left centre spot open, and in a shock it appears injury-prone former Cowboys three-quarter Tautau Moga will get the Round 1 call-up, with Jordan Kahu to stay on the wing and David Mead missing out. Fellow recruit Benji Marshall is battling an Achilles complaint and is unlikely to grab a backline or bench spot for Thursday’s clash with Cronulla.


The Raiders have not had a great time of it this pre-season with captain and centre Jarrod Croker breaking down in the All-Stars game; a knee injury will keep him out until at least Round 5, while winger Edrick Lee’s sudden departure to Cronulla means they’ll be fielding an all-new left side combination. English newcomer Jordan Turner and impressive rookie Nick Cotric are the favourites to slot in. Junior Paulo’s ban until Round 2 opens the door for veteran Jeff Lima, while Adam Clydesdale will take injured utility Kurt Baptiste’s bench spot. Aidan Sezer will fulfil Croker’s goalkicking responsibilities, but it’s unclear who the skipper will be.


Halfback Moses Mbye has an arm injury, but is expected to take his place in the Bulldogs’ Round 1 line-up.


Valentine Holmes is likely to be out until Round 2, which should see Gerard Beale play fullback again, as he did adequately in the World Club Challenge – although coach Shane Flanagan has said both Holmes and Sosaia Feki will be fit for the Broncos after sitting out the WCC. Recruit Tony Williams is sidelined with a hamstring injury, but the Sharks will still be able to field their entire grand final starting pack (minus Michael Ennis) and bench forward contingent.


Injuries to Nathan Peats (shoulder) and Pat Politoni (arm) have left the No.9 jumper wide open, with Tyrone Roberts and Karl Lawton the mooted replacements. Jarryd Hayne (knee) is also racing the clock to be fit, with William Zillman confirmed as the back-up fullback option. Cult hero forward Agnatius Paasi’s shoulder injury means front-row recruit Jarrod Wallace may play lock, with Englishman Joe Greenwood – a recent swap for Super League-bound Zeb Taia – coming straight onto the bench.


Brett Stewart and Steve Matai have been forced into retirement, which allows Tom Trbojevic to permanently take over at fullback, while rookie Brian Kelly is set to trump the likes of Matthew Wright and Jono Wright for a centre spot. Darcy Lussick is out until Round 6 with a wrist complaint, which should see recruit Lloyd Perrett join the prop rotation.


Billy Slater is unlikely to start the season, and Young Tonumaipea – rather than Cameron Munster – is expected to wear the No.1 until the legend’s return. In a big blow, Tohu Harris is out for two months with a foot injury, meaning Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi will form an all-new starting second-row combination.


Rory Kostjasyn’s throat injury will see Danny Levi and Tyler Randell continue to grapple for the No.9 and 14 jumpers, while Pauli Pauli’s hip injury sustained in a car accident should see Jamie Buhrer, Sione Mata’utia and Mitch Barnett as the starting back-row trio. Brock Lamb looks like replacing retired stalwart Jarrod Mullen in the halves.


An ankle injury Antonio Winterstein looks to have provided an opportunity for Kalyn Ponga on the wing, with Gideon Gela-Mosby another exciting option.


Peni Terepo and Kirisome Auva’a are both out suspended, which may see Beau Scott start at lock and Tepai Moeroa come into the second-row, while Auva’a was unlikely to force his way into the starting backline in any case. Siosia Vave is currently out injured, but fellow recruits Suaia Matagi, Frank Pritchard and Nathan Brown are set to win spots in the Eels’ 17.


Knee injuries have ruled Josh Mansour and Sam McKendry out for lengthy stints, while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will miss the first couple of games with a foot complaint. The Panthers still have a wealth of backline options, with Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku potentially lining up on the wings, and Dean Whare in the centres alongside Tyrone Peachey. New buys James Tamou and Tim Browne should slot straight into the front-row rotation, though tyro Moses Leota is also in the mix.


Josh McCrone is the favourite ahead of Jai Field and Kurt Mann to take the No.7 jumper vacated by Drew Hutchison’s long-term injury, while Matt Dufty’s knee injury means Josh Dugan will definitely start the year at fullback. Will Matthews and Mose Masoe are out for extended periods, stretching their forward depth, though Paul Vaughan has been added to the ranks.


Adam Reynolds’ bout of appendicitis is a big blow, with Luke Kelly or hooker Damien Cook the contenders to partner Cody Walker in the halves, though former long-term five-eighth John Sutton remains an option. Aaron Gray’s knee injury opens the door for youngster Siosifa Talakai to nab a centre spot, with winger Braidon Burns likely to be overlooked.


Sio Siua Taukeiaho is still out for some time after suffering an ACL injury late last year, with Zane Tetavano tipped to come onto the bench ahead of fellow recruit Paul Carter. Outstanding fringe youngsters Joseph Manu and Nat Butcher are sidelined for the early rounds.


Ata Hingano is all but certain to fill in for suspended superstar recruit Kieran Foran at five-eighth for the first two rounds, with Tui Lolohea to play on the wing. Manu Vatuvei (knee) is under a bit of an injury cloud, with Ken Maumalo a handy wing replacement. Bunty Afoa is in line for a starting second-row berth with Bodene Thompson suffering an ankle injury, while James Gavet should win a bench spot with Ben Matulino (knee) out for several weeks. Boom youngsters Toafofoa Sipley and Isaiah Papalii are pushing hard for a call-up, however.


Hooker Matt Ballin is in doubt for Round 1 and young gun Jacob Liddle is also out, but well-travelled Matt McIlwrick is ready to go in the No.9. Jamal Idris slots straight in for the suspended Tim Simona. Kyle Lovett will have to wait until Round 3 to push for a spot in the Tigers’ pack after being stood down for disciplinary reasons.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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