A fresh batch of injuries suffered by key players has turned the frantic race for NRL finals spots on its head. NSW Origin winger Daniel Tupou will be out of action for the Sydney Roosters for six weeks, while a knee injury has ended in-form Wests Tigers flyer David Nofoaluma’s season and boom Penrith utility Tyrone Peachey may also be done for 2014 due to a pectoral injury.
The Peachey blow provides a real conundrum for Panthers coach Ivan Cleary – he was playing his first match at five-eighth in the place of captain Peter Wallace, who is also doubtful to return to the paddock this year. Cleary has been forced to move brilliant fullback Matt Moylan into the No.6 and draft teenage rookie Dallin Watene-Zelezniak into the vital custodian role. Back-up five-eighth Isaac John had already suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.
Nofoaluma’s injury continues a wretched run for the Tigers, who have welcomed back several long-term absentees only to lose the likes of key spine performers James Tedesco and Braith Anasta. Shaun Kenny-Dowall is the only player remaining from the Roosters’ Grand Final three-quarter line after Tupou joined Michael Jennings and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the casualty ward.
Matt Gillett’s return can’t come soon enough for the Brisbane Broncos, who have not won a game since the Queensland backrower was helped off early at Mt Smart Stadium against the Warriors before picking up another injury in Origin III.
Glenn Stewart is still out indefinitely and may have played his last game for Manly, but the competition front-runners have one of the healthiest squads among the title contenders.
The same can’t be said for the Canterbury Bulldogs, who continue to produce results despite having the likes of Josh Morris, Sam Perrett, David Klemmer and Aiden Tolman unavailable, on top of Josh Reynolds’ suspension and the season-ending pectoral injury to Frank Pritchard.
North Queensland has been equally injury-ravaged, but has not coped nearly as well, dropping out of the top eight as Cameron King, Ray Thompson, Brent Tate, Matt Scott and Gavin Cooper fell by the wayside. Thompson returns this weekend off the interchange bench.
Parramatta offset the loss of Nathan Peats for the year by snapping up Isaac De Gois midseason, but injuries to Will Hopoate, Manu Ma’u, Ken Sio and Lee Mossop have rattled the momentum the Eels built up during the first half of the 2014. Meanwhile, St George Illawarra is rallying for a late top-eight bid despite Tyson Frizell and Origin stars Brett Morris and Trent Merrin joining long-term absentees Dylan Farrell and Kyle Stanley on the injured list.
The Warriors (besides the loss of Glen Fisiiahi and Jerome Ropati, which they’ve covered for superbly), Melbourne and South Sydney are sitting comparatively comfortably injury-wise. Injuries and depth shape as X-factors in the remaining eight weeks of the regular season as clubs negotiate their way through the closest race for the finals in recent memory.
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