South Sydney have turned to former bad boy Paul Carter to solve their hooking crisis while Bulldogs third-string rake Damien Cook will make just his fifth NRL appearance in Friday’s monster clash.
Just as it was in last year’s season decider, this week’s grand final replay between the two teams may depend on which side reacts best to the loss of their dummy-half.
The Rabbitohs’ Luke is out of the ANZ Stadium showdown due to suspension with the No.9 to be worn by Carter, who was sacked by Gold Coast last year for drink-driving before being thrown a lifeline at Souths.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler has put his faith in 24-year-old Cook after Michael Lichaa was ruled out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury.
With utility Josh Reynolds still several weeks away from returning from a knee injury, halfback Trent Hodkinson said he and his teammates had confidence in Cook.
“(Lichaa) is one of those players – your six, seven, fullback or nine is a big loss for you but we’ve got options there,” Hodkinson said.
“Young Damien Cook has been playing really good down in NSW Cup and if he gets a crack I’m sure he’ll be excited.
“We just want him to be strong, be clear and just get the forwards rolling on and be confident doing it and I know Damien will be.”
John Sutton has been named to replace suspended Rabbitohs five-eighth Luke Keary however he is struggling to overcome a buttock injury.
Broncos skipper Justin Hodges will be back from suspension for his side’s top-of-the-table showdown with the Sydney Roosters which looks likely to decide the minor premiership.
On the opposite side of the coin, the Roosters have questions marks over their three-quarter line with Blake Ferguson contesting a tripping charge at the NRL judiciary.
Trent Robinson has a handy replacement with Mitch Aubusson included on an extended bench while winger Brendan Elliot has been named in the starting team.
Halfback Benji Marshall will make a timely return for St George Illawarra as their top-eight hopes go on the line against Penrith.
Cronulla utility Ben Barba, who will miss two weeks with an ankle strain, has been replaced by Matt Prior on the bench.
Wests Tigers enforcer Martin Taupau will make his comeback from a three-week suspension while key trio Aaron Woods (knee), Luke Brooks (hand) and Robbie Farah (cheekbone) have all been named.
With Kane Elgey (hip) and Aidan Sezer (shoulder) out, Gold Coast will field a makeshift halves combination of Daniel Mortimer and Josh Hoffman.
Isaac De Gois will wear the Parramatta No.9 jersey with Nathan Peats out for the rest of the year with a broken neck.
Dale Finucane has been named by Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy but seems an unlikely starter after suffering a dislocated forearm against Cronulla on Monday.