Desperate St George Illawarra have received welcome relief with senior players returning in their droves as they fight to stay in the NRL top eight.
After slumping to their fourth straight loss on the weekend, NSW stars Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin as well as Jason Nightingale, Will Matthews and Joel Thompson headline a list of welcome inclusions.
Dugan and Merrin will take on local rivals Cronulla at Remondis Stadium on Sunday provided they pull through Wednesday’s State of Origin decider.
Thompson (hamstring), Nightingale (ankle) and Matthews (suspension) will also be in the line-up.
Paul McGregor’s side went down 18-12 to North Queensland on Saturday night, missing nine regular starters, but will fancy their chances of getting back in the winner’s circle this week.
While still placed fourth, they are in a logjam of five teams on 20 points and another loss will leave them on a knife’s edge.
Their opponents have also received a boost with Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis set to return provided they get through Origin.
Struggling Newcastle also have a flood of troops returning with halves Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts and forwards Kade Snowden, Jeremy Smith and David Fa’alogo back on Friday to face Canberra.
“We need to start winning games definitely,” Mullen said of his Knights who are placed 15th.
“I know we don’t have the best run home because we had a lot of home games to start off with.
“We’ve got to make a bit of a run and make a run now.”
Canterbury’s Josh Jackson returns from suspension, forcing Des Hasler to make the difficult decision to relegate young back-rower and last-start man of the match Shaun Lane to 18th man.
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett has named Sam Thaiday to back up three days after Origin in the front row in place of Josh McGuire, who is out for the season with an achilles injury.
Cooper Cronk will make his playing return from a knee injury for Queensland in Origin III on Wednesday night and is also expected to line up against the Warriors for Melbourne, who are out to break a three-game losing streak.
Gold Coast halfback Kane Elgey has failed in his bid to line up against Manly and robbing him of the chance to make a point against Daly Cherry-Evans.
Cherry-Evans backflipped on a deal to join Gold Coast next year to stick with Manly and Monday’s match will be his first outing against the club he spurned.
Elgey would have teamed with Cherry-Evans in the halves next year and Titans coach Neil Henry said he would have been disappointed to miss the clash.
“(Elgey’s) ankle is just not right at the moment,” Henry said.
“He’s really on restricted training and he’ll be pushing to be right the week after.
“We’re expecting a few other players should be right next week as well.”
With Elgey still out, Josh Hoffman has been named at five-eighth, ending James Roberts’ time in the halves, while front-rower Ryan James has been cleared of a shoulder problem.