Rookie Young Tonumaipea is set to be pitchforked into the cauldron of Melbourne’s NRL preliminary final against North Queensland on Saturday, due to a leg injury to star winger Marika Koroibete.
Koroibete suffered a lacerated Achilles two weeks ago in the Storm’s qualifying final win over Sydney Roosters and the injury has been slow to heal.
The Fijian international only trained for 15 minutes in the Storm’s final session on Friday before the AAMI Park showdown and is still unable to run at full pace.
Tonumaipea, who hasn’t played first grade since March, will take Koroibete’s place if he is a late withdrawal as is likely.
In his pre-game press conference on Friday, Storm skipper Cameron Smith all but conceded Koroibete had lost his race against the clock to be fit to face the Cowboys.
“We are hopeful, (but) we are still not sure where he will be at,” Smith said.
“He was out there today. He came out and trained for 10 or 15 minutes to see where he was at. He was doing a little bit of running, but the coaches are just waiting to see where he is at tomorrow with his soreness levels and how he pulls up.
“Marika is 50/50. He’s not pain free. It was a pretty nasty gash he had on his Achilles. The issues he has had is with the stitches, trying to stretch out and run, it is very awkward where they are at.”
Tonumaipea has played 18 NRL games for the Storm over the past two seasons. The Cowboys are sure to target him if Koroibete does pull out but Smith put his faith in the 23-year-old.
“Young knows what his role is in the side,” Smith said.
“In that time he hasn’t been playing in first grade he has been playing very well up in Brisbane with our feeder team and he has picked up a couple of man of the matches in those games.
“He is excited for the opportunity. He still doesn’t know (if he will definitely be there), but he has prepared well and he has done a great job for us before so I have every confidence in him if he plays.
“For the past two weeks he has been involved in every session for us, he is ready to go.”