South Sydney are considering thrusting untried rookie Brock Gray into the fray as they formulate a plan to cover for the lengthy absence of prized recruit Glenn Stewart.
Stewart, who crossed from Manly to the Rabbitohs at the end of last season, is facing up to three months on the sidelines after injuring a tendon in his thumb during last week’s 30-22 loss to the Raiders.
The 31-year-old back rower will undergo surgery this week, ruling him out for 10-12 weeks.
Stewart’s setback comes at a terrible time for the Rabbitohs, whose growing injury toll has led to a three-match losing run.
Halfback Adam Reynolds (knee), backrower Kyle Turner (neck), and key utility John Sutton (broken jaw) are all nursing serious injuries, while centre Dylan Walker (knee) and Luke Keary (foot) have withdrawn from the City side to face Country in Wagga Wagga on Sunday.
Sutton remains a week-to-week proposition and is no certainty to return for the May 11 clash with the Dragons at ANZ Stadium.
Jason Clark, Chris Grevsmuhl, and Ben Lowe are all in the hunt to replace Stewart in the starting line-up.
And Gray looms as a smoky inclusion given the Rabbitohs’ heavy injury toll.
The 18-year-old is in his second year with the Rabbitohs’ under 20s squad, and his potential call-up comes just a week after his 21-year-old brother Aaron made his Rabbitohs debut.
“He’s a pup, still pretty green. But he’s got all the attributes to be a first grader,” Rabbitohs development coach Matt King said.
“Brock’s been in our system for close to three years now. He’ll know what’s expected of him when he steps out into a first-grade jumper.
“I have complete faith in him playing first-grade for sure.”
King admits the Rabbitohs’ title defence is looking a tad shaky following four defeats from their past five games, with the loss of Stewart making matters even harder.
But the former NSW Origin star is adamant it will only be a matter of time before the Rabbitohs regain their mojo.
“The ability in our team is still enormous, and the belief is still there,” King said.
“It’s just our confidence that has taken a hit. Once we get that right, we’ll be ok.”
Keary is in a moon boot after receiving a cortisone injection on his troublesome foot, but he remains a chance to play against the Dragons.
“That foot has been pretty dodgy since the grand final,” King said.
“He struggled through the pre-season, but he hasn’t missed a game.
“He’s a professional guy. He’ll do everything within his powers to be ready to go each week.”
King joined Rabbitohs’ chief executive John Lee in Western Australia on Tuesday to spruik the club’s June 6 clash with the Warriors in Perth.
It’s the seventh straight year South Sydney have taken a home fixture to Perth, and Lee was happy the match wouldn’t clash with a local AFL game.
“It’s great to see there is no war between the codes,” Lee said.
“It’s about co-existing and it’s about working together.
“We don’t need to fight amongst codes. I don’t think that helps either game.”