NRL News: Fans up in arms over stadium policy but Abdo unmoved, Croker doesn't want pity recall, Olam rising to challenge
NRL news, as it happens, in the lead-up to the start of the finals.
Kalyn Ponga, Jackson Hastings, Tohu Harris, Joey Manu, Connor Tracey, Harry Grant and Jahrome Hughes are among the big names racing the clock to be right for the opening round of the NRL finals.
All eight teams will be making changes for the opening week of the finals after several players were rested or injured in the final round.
Ponga is considered the least likely of the Knights duo under an injury cloud due to the AC joint injury he suffered from a Jesse Ramien tackle a fortnight ago.
Hastings is a better chance to make his return on Sunday at home against Canberra from a syndesmosis injury after spending three weeks on the sidelines.
Raiders winger Seb Kris has copped a season-ending suspension after he was sent off for a spear tackle in their loss to Cronulla on Sunday. He was charged with a grade-three dangerous throw which carries a ban of five matches, which he has accepted with an early guilty plea instead of risking six if he had taken on the judiciary.
Hughes is battling a knee injury although the Storm will name him at halfback and give him as much time as possible to prove his fitness before Friday’s qualifying final against the Broncos in Brisbane. Grant is all but certain to play after sitting out a week with shoulder damage.
Broncos captain Adam Reynolds (calf) and lock Pat Carrigan (foot) are certain starters.
Tracey injured his knee late in Sunday’s win over Canberra and coach Craig Fitzgibbon was unsure whether the fullback would be right for Saturday’s eliminator against the Roosters.
With first-choice fullback Will Kennedy out with a hamstring injury, Daniel Atkinson could be thrust into the No.1 jersey while Nicho Hynes or Matt Moylan could also be switched to the back.
Manu missed Friday’s win over Souths with a hamstring complaint but the Roosters are hopeful he will be right to rip into the Sharks, replacing Corey Allan, but Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (suspension) will not play again this year and winger Daniel Tupou (knee) is a long shot to feature in the finals.
“To lose Joey, Jared and Toops (Tupou) last week wasn’t ideal for us, but I thought Junior (Pauga), Corey and those middle forwards did a fantastic job,” said five-eighth Luke Keary on Monday. “If we get Joey back then that’s great, but I’ve got a lot of belief in Corey because he’s such a good footy player.
“They pushed Joey a little last week … we haven’t trained yet this week so I’m gathering they’ll give him every chance.”
Harris has been bothered by a back complaint and the Warriors skipper is only rated a 50-50 chance of suiting up against Penrith.
Broncos: Adam Reynolds (calf) and Patrick Carrigan (foot) are set to return after being given a few weeks off to get over their minor injuries while Reece Walsh, Herbie Farnworth, Selwyn Cobbo, Ezra Mam, Billy Walters, Payne Haas and Kurt Capewell will return after being rested in Round 27.
Centre Kotoni Staggs is also back after serving a one-game suspension.
Jesse Arthars is set to beat Corey Oates to Brisbane’s left wing position. Arthars trained at left wing for the full Broncos training session on Sunday while Oates trained with the club’s secondary group.
Coach Kevin Walters has a crucial decision to make about his four-man bench but from the session on Sunday the front runners appear to be hooker Tyson Smoothy, second-rower Brendan Piakura, prop Corey Jensen and versatile forward Kobe Hetherington. Paikura is free to play after copping fines for three charges but young forward Xavier Willison is out of the mix after injuring his ankle in the loss to the Storm.
Storm: Jahrome Hughes’ knee injury is causing the most concern. Nick Meaney could be switched to the halves to partner Cameron Munster if the Kiwi playmaker is out with Ryan Papenhuyzen remaining at fullback. Papenhuyzen is likely to end up on the bench if Hughes is fit with Meaney returning to fullback after being rested last week.
Munster, Marion Seve, Xavier Coates, Christian Welch, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Tui Kamikamica and Trent Loiero were given the week off by Craig Bellamy in the final round.
Panthers: Young hooker Soni Luke was rested in Round 27 as Ivan Cleary ended up playing the majority of his first-choice team so the Panthers could leapfrog Brisbane into first for the minor premiership. Centre Izack Tago made a strong return from a hamstring injury against the Cowboys.
Second-rower Scott Sorensen and hooker Mitch Kenny are set to return from minor leg injuries.
Warriors: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak join Shaun Johnson were given the final round off. Tohu Harris’ back injury means he will be racing the clock to be right for kick-off.
Luke Metcalf and Jazz Tevaga are not likely to play again until later in the playoffs due to their hamstring problems.
Sharks: Connor Tracey is due to have scans on Monday to determine the extent of the damage to his knee suffered in Sunday’s win over Canberra. Second-rower Briton Nikora (head knock) is good to go.
After playing his last regular-season match at Shark Park on Sunday, retiring forward Wade Graham will get one more chance to play at the ground.
Roosters: Joey Manu was a late scratching from the win over Souths with his hamstring injury so he will likely replace Corey Allan in the centres.
Veteran winger Daniel Tupou’s knee injury will keep him out another week but Jake Turpin (head knock) should be available for selection.
Front-rower Fletcher Baker was fined $1000 for a dangerous throw but is free to play.
Knights: Jackson Hastings’ ankle and Kalyn Ponga’s shoulder will be getting plenty of treatment this week to try to get the key duo right for Sunday. Adam Clune and Lachie Miller will again replace them if they’re out.
Tyson Frizell, Dane Gagai and Phoenix Crossland will be back after being rested in the win over the Dragons.
Veteran forward Adam Elliott copped a $3000 fine instead of a two-game ban for a careless high tackle on Billy Burns.
Raiders: Seb Kris’ dangerous throw suspension opens the door for Albert Hopoate to be recalled on the wing with retiring club legend Jarrod Croker unlikely to make the final cut.