St George-Illawarra forward Jack de Belin is poised to return from a virus ahead of schedule for Saturday night’s NRL clash against South Sydney at the SCG.
De Belin has missed the last three matches after a knock to his knee against the Sydney Roosters in round 15 resulted in him spending nine days in hospital that included three operations to control the infection.
The mobile back-rower wasn’t originally named in coach Paul McGregor’s squad on Tuesday and was due to spend another two weeks on the sidelines.
However, after completing training on Friday, de Belin is a chance to be included on the bench to face the Rabbitohs.
“(De Belin) got through training well. It’ll just depend on how he pulls up in the morning,” McGregor told reporters on game-eve.
“If he pulls up well, he’ll be out there because it’s important to the club. He’s an important player.”
It will be another boost for the Dragons, who are on a five-match losing streak and close to dropping out of the top eight.
Over half of their top 25 were on the sidelines when they were thrashed by Cronulla last Sunday, but key quartet Josh Dugan, Benji Marshall, Joel Thompson and Tyson Frizell will return this weekend.
McGregor described the 24-year-old De Belin as a future Origin player, and said his inclusion in the forward pack is just as crucial as getting his starting second-row of Thompson and Frizell back on deck.
“The chemistry’s right, certainly when Joel, Frizz and Jack are back, because they’re a big part of our football team,” McGregor said.
“That’s not saying anyone in our squad’s not, but obviously they were at the top of their game before they were injured.
“Both of them were on the fringe of playing Origin. (And) Jack de Belin to me, epitomises Origin football. He plays like that every week.”
A rested Dugan is set to make his first appearance since NSW’s Origin decider flogging in Brisbane.
“He needed the rest. We spoke about it together,” McGregor said.
“There’s just no way in the world he would’ve been near his best last Sunday.
“But the 13 days off has done him the world of good. He’s a big game player and this is a big game for the club.”
McGregor labelled the final two months of the regular season as a “new competition”, explaining that the coaching staff had worked out what the side needed to do to turn their season around and make the finals.
“We looked at the next eight weeks and a new competition starts,” he said.
“We’re really looking forward to getting a few troops back on Saturday night and trying to get our shape back, which we need to do.”