Star Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson faces up to five months’ recovery after having surgery on his broken ankle.
Johnson suffered the injury in scoring a try during the Warriors’ 32-12 NRL defeat to Manly in Auckland on Saturday night.
After stepping through the defence, he got his leg jammed as he was tackled while planting the ball down.
He clutched his ankle in pain and had to be helped from the field.
Scans showed he had fractured the fibula bone and had ligament damage, and he underwent surgery on Sunday when he had a plate and two screws inserted.
Coach Andrew McFadden says the injury is a huge disappointment for Johnson and everyone at the club.
“He faces a long recovery, but he’ll have the best medical care available,” McFadden said.
The winner of the Golden Boot last year as rugby league’s best player, Johnson had been in sublime form.
His try in the 25th minute helped the Warriors level at 6-6 but the Sea Eagles ran away with the match in the second half.
The Warriors, who sit just inside the top eight, now face a tough challenge to stay in finals contention without their mercurial playmaker.
Johnson’s injury also rules him out of the Kiwis’ end-of-year tour of England.
Second-rower Bodene Thompson also left the field with an ankle problem, but its seriousness is still to be confirmed.
Meanwhile, back-rower Ryan Hoffman will return from a calf injury to face Cronulla on Saturday.
Centre Konrad Hurrell will also be available after serving a one-game suspension for dangerous contact while playing in the NSW Cup on his comeback from a shoulder complaint.
However, winger Manu Vatuvei, out with a shoulder injury, is not expected to be unavailable until the week after when the Warriors host St George Illawarra in Wellington.