The Panthers have turned to Sean O’Sullivan and Jaeman Salmon in the halves as the defending premiers try to navigate the rest of the regular season without stars Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.
Cleary will miss the rest of the regular season after he was sent off and banned for five matches for an ugly spear tackle on Parramatta’s Dylan Brown, while Luai continues to recover from a knee injury.
O’Sullivan has shown he can fill in for the rep stars when required, but it’s a huge call bringing in Salmon, given he hasn’t started a game at five-eighth since 2019 when he played seven games for the Eels in the No .6 jumper.
Coach Ivan Cleary could yet spring a late change with rookie Kurt Falls named in the reserves for Saturday’s trip to take on the resurgent Raiders.
In a boost for the Panthers, center Stephen Crichton returns from his sickening head clash with Cronulla’s Dale Finucane which required emergency plastic surgery to repair an ear.
Canberra winger Jordan Rapana is back from suspension and replaces Albert Hopoate on the right wing as the Raiders try to keep their top-eight hopes alive.
The Broncos have named Kobe Hetherington at lock in place of the suspended Patrick Carrigan for Thursday’s blockbuster against the Roosters.
Brisbane’s hopes of returning to the top four have been helped with winger Selwyn Cobbo back for his first game since he was knocked out early in the State of Origin decider.
Lindsay Collins was also knocked out in that game and he’ll miss Thursday’s match after he suffered another head knock against the Sea Eagles last week. Teammate Egan Butcher is also missing through suspension, which means Matt Lodge will start.
The Storm welcome back Brandon Smith after his three-game ban for verbally abusing referee Adam Gee. He’ll start from the bench while mid-season recruit David Nofoaluma starts on the wing to bolster their weakened backline.
That backline has taken more damage with Nick Meaney (shoulder) and Justin Olam (Covid) both sidelined for Friday’s match against the Titans, but there is a chance rep winger Xavier Coates returns for his first game since the State of Origin opener when he hurt his ankle.
Toby Sexton has been “rested” which means AJ Brimson moves to the halves with Jayden Campbell set to start at fullback against the team he made his NRL debut against last year.
Six members of the “Sea Eagles seven” have been included in this week’s squad, but Josh Aloiai will miss Friday’s crucial clash with Parramatta because of injury.
Josh Schuster has been named in the No.18 jersey.
The Eels have called on Jake Arthur to replace the injured Mitch Moses for the rest of the regular season as he nurses a broken finger. It’ll be the young half’s first game since he was booed by some Parramatta fans in Round 19.
There will be a very special debut at Shark Park on Saturday night with Kade Dykes set to make his NRL debut at fullback.
The 20-year-old will become a third-generation Shark after his dad Adam and grandfather John both represented the club.
Dykes comes in for Will Kennedy, who will miss the rest of the regular season with a serious ankle injury.
Dragons coach Anthony Griffin has stuck with the same 17 who scored just one try against North Queensland last week, which has their final hopes on life support.
The Cowboys have suffered a setback with try-scoring machine Kyle Feldt ruled out for two weeks with a hamstring injury. His place has been taken by speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
Meanwhile, Newcastle prop David Klemmer has been stood down by the club for an on-field incident during the Knights’ clash with the Bulldogs. He is ineligible to play until he responds to the club-imposed sanction.