A shocking injury toll coming out of Round 20 has thrown an already hectic scramble for finals spots into further disarray. From season-ending to mid-term, the injuries have the capacity to completely derail some clubs’ campaigns. Check out your team’s squad health as the NRL regular season enters the home straight.
Manly: Glenn Stewart is the only top-liner unavailable at present, while impressive rookie winger Clint Gutherson is also out indefinitely. Hampered consistently by injuries in 2014, Jorge Taufua returns to the flank again this week, with Cheyse Blair remaining a handy back-up. Good depth across the board – the minor premiership is a near certainty.
South Sydney: Injuries to Sam Burgess and John Sutton on Monday night were compounded by another suspension to Ben Te’o, while Chris McQueen’s return from an ankle complaint has been delayed again. Sutton’s knee injury is the biggest concern, although he is slated for a Round 23-24 return and the second-placed Rabbitohs have a superb five-eighth replacement in Luke Keary.
Penrith: The Panthers are on the slide now that their lopsided draw is exposing them as a mid-level team, while injuries are likely to see them limp into the finals. Peter Wallace’s season-ending knee injury is a terrible blow, particularly as likely replacements Tyrone Peachey and Isaac John also won’t play again until 2015. Will Smith has been named to debut at five-eighth this week. Penrith boasts good depth in other areas, but its remaining six games are all tough and the mountain men are far from over the line for a top eight berth.
Canterbury: David Klemmer returns this week to alleviate an engine-room injury ward that still includes Frank Pritchard (who is out for the season), Aiden Tolman and Tim Browne. The ongoing absence of Josh Morris and Chase Stanley is causing further issues for what is arguably the least potent backline in the NRL.
Sydney Roosters: The premiers are struggling to get on a roll and they are not being helped in the injury department. Michael Jennings has been named to return this week but Daniel Tupou is still out, while Sonny Bill Williams is a few weeks away from returning and the ultra-reliable Mitch Aubusson will be sidelined for at least one game. The Roosters have able replacements in stock, but require their strike weapons to give their title defence a decent shake.
Melbourne: Cooper Cronk’s injury had many tipping the Storm to miss the playoffs, but his early – and excellent – return has put the club, which is near enough to full strength, right back in the premiership mix. Young forwards Slade Griffin and Mitch Garbutt, and luckless three-quarter Matt Duffie is the only unavailable Melbourne players of note.
North Queensland: The tragic injury suffered by Brent Tate is being adequately covered by Matthew Wright and mid-season recruit Tautau Moga, while rookie Curtis Rona remains in the mix. Matthew Scott’s Round 21 return coincides with the possible neck injury absence of Test prop partner James Tamou, and key backrower Gavin Cooper is still on the sidelines.
Brisbane: The Broncos’ lopsided 2014 roster has been offset by having the luckiest run injury-wise of any side in the NRL. Prop Mitchell Dodds, who has not played since Round 21 last year due to a knee injury, remains the only notable Brisbane player unavailable.
New Zealand: Shaun Johnson missed a game through injury for just the second time in his career last weekend, and the Warriors badly missed his influence against Manly. Fingers crossed his troublesome groin can see the year out, because the Warriors can’t make the finals without Johnson. The club has all of its top-line forwards available with Feleti Mateo returning after also missing the Manly clash. Excellent backline depth has nullified the season-ending injuries suffered by Glen Fisiiahi and Jerome Ropati, and Kevin Locke’s mid-season departure to Salford, but persevering with bumbling centre Dane Nielsen at the expense of rookie sensation David Fusitua – and a host of other burgeoning young talents – defies belief.
St George Illawarra: Negotiated the absence of NSW stars Brett Morris and Trent Merrin to surge back into finals contention. The Dragons’ squad is healthy enough now to make a real run at the top eight. Dan Hunt, Matt Groat and Tyson Frizell should be available for selection again in a couple of weeks, but three-quarter Dylan Farrell is gone for the year after suffering a knee injury in NSW Cup.
Wests Tigers: The extent of the Tigers’ horrific injury toll is only matched by their admirable ability to overcome it and remain in the finals mix. James Tedesco, Braith Anasta, David Nofoaluma and Liam Fulton are all gone for 2014 and Cory Paterson and Chris Lawrence are currently unavailable, but the likes of Mitchell Moses, Blake Austin, Keith Lulia and Bodene Thompson have filled the void in brilliant fashion. Lamentably, the club’s spineless board and the Robbie Farah-Mick Potter debacle seem destined to derail their top-eight hopes instead.
Parramatta: Dodged a major catastrophe by snaring Isaac De Gois mid-season for injured rake Nathan Peats. British forward Lee Mossop is out for the year, while mature-aged rookie sensation Manu Ma’u is slated for a Round 25 return from a broken hand. The Eels are otherwise in good shape in the squad health department.
Gold Coast: The early-season competition leaders are hanging by a thread following a shocking run with injuries. The absence of halves Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly rocked the Titans’ campaign; replacement Beau Henry then suffered a season-ending injury, while the club brought in Daniel Mortimer mid-season but he is struggling to direct an under-strength side around while being partnered by a novice five-eighth in Brad Takairangi. In the forward department, Ben Ridge and Ryan James are finished for the year and Ashley Harrison was forced into early retirement, while Luke Bailey is still sidelined. David Mead returns to a depleted backline this week, with Will Zillman still out.
Newcastle: First-choice back-three Darius Boyd, James McManus and Akuila Uate are unavailable and have been replaced by rookies. Jarrod Mullen has been sidelined again after suffering a stomach tear in Round 20, coinciding with Kurt Gidley’s return this weekend. The Knights have their full-strength forward pack (minus Alex McKinnon, of course) on deck as they look to stave off the wooden spoon, however.
Canberra: Injuries to exciting young outside backs Edrick Lee, Jack Wighton and Brenko Lee have dulled the Raiders’ scoring potential, while Tom Learoyd-Lahrs has not been sighted since Round 11. But it’s the incompetence of those who have been playing, rather than the casualty ward, that is most responsible for Canberra’s current predicament.
Cronulla: Peppered by injuries throughout the year, the mid-season retirement of Beau Ryan and current unavailability of Paul Gallen and John Morris are the only major casualty ward downsides at present for the embattled Sharks.
Follow Commentary Box Sports on Social Media!