Issac Luke ... returning to the Rabbitohs' starting line-up. Photo: Brendan Esposito
SOUTH SYDNEY coach Michael Maguire is set to restore hooker Issac Luke to his starting side for tomorrow night's semi-final against Canberra at ANZ Stadium.
The Herald understands Luke will start against the Raiders, after being benched for the past two matches following a demotion to NSW Cup due to off-field ill-discipline as well as a drop in form. Nathan Peats, who replaced Luke, will likely drop back to the bench.
Maguire has been under pressure to start Luke, considered one of his key attacking weapons when in form. The coach is not one to bow to pressure but it appears he has decided that the Rabbitohs need his go-forward from the outset in the elimination final.
Asked yesterday about the prospect of Luke starting, Maguire said: ''We're making decisions for the team, and what's right for the team. That's all in front of us, those decisions.''
Pressed later by the Herald about the suggestions that he had already pledged to start Luke, Maguire said: ''I am deciding the team [today].''
The selection quandary around Luke has been one of Maguire's more pressing concerns this week, yet it is not his only one. With centre Matt King sidelined for the rest of the season with a broken arm, suffered in the qualifying final loss to Melbourne last Saturday night, Maguire named winger Andrew Everingham to replace him.
Yet Maguire still has other options from the interchange, namely Chris McQueen, a second-rower who has played in the centres, as well as Shaune Corrigan.
''We're always looking at our squad, and I am always doing the right thing by the team,'' Maguire said. ''I am always talking to our senior players, and we're focused [on] making sure we get the best team on the park. I am very lucky I have a big squad. Everyone is very keen to get out there. We will decide exactly how we're going to go [today].''
Maguire did rule out the prospect of fullback Greg Inglis being shifted back to the centres. '''GI' has played fullback for us, and that's where he's staying,'' Maguire said.
It appears, too, that winger Nathan Merritt will be staying, despite suffering a shoulder injury against the Storm. Maguire said Merritt would ''definitely be playing'' against the Raiders.
Elsewhere, the career of North Queensland hooker Aaron Payne appears over after he succumbed to a knee injury. The Cowboys released a statement yesterday that said Payne, who suffered the injury in last Saturday night's victory against Brisbane, had been ruled out for the rest of the finals series, although coach Neil Henry later clarified that, saying he was a slim chance of being fit should the squad reach the grand final. Payne had already announced he would retire at the end of the season. James Segeyaro will start at hooker against Manly at Allianz Stadium tonight, with Anthony Mitchell likely to assume the role of bench utility.
Manly, their opponents for tonight's first semi-final, are likely to be without their centre Jamie Lyon, who suffered a calf injury against the Bulldogs last Friday night. Five-eighth Kieran Foran is expected to shift into the centres, with his brother Liam taking on the pivot role.