NSW could face further injury woes after utility Luke Lewis became the 13th top-line player ruled out for the Sharks when they take on St George Illawarra on Saturday night.
Lewis received a cortisone injection on Thursday to help remove fluid in his knee which has plagued him since helping NSW to victory in game one. It should not impact on his chances of being fit for next Wednesday’s Origin clash but will hamper his preparation, with Lewis unable to run for at least five days after receiving the injection. Lewis had hoped to have the treatment on Sunday.
“I wanted to play for the Sharks but the doctor said I needed seven days for the proper treatment,” Lewis said. “They wouldn’t have let me play with the amount of fluid that I had in my knee.”
With Josh and Brett Morris already ruled out of game two for the Blues, Lewis is a potential centre replacement to allow Greg Bird to slot back into the forward pack following his return from suspension. Lewis’ injury comes at a cruel time for a Cronulla side who have been torn apart with a host of stars, including Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita and Todd Carney, joining Lewis on the sideline.
Lewis and hooker John Morris were named to face the Dragons, but both are likely to miss the game and be replaced by Tupou Sopoaga and Michael Lichaa. Halves Carney and Jeff Robson will miss the game as will Beau Ryan who has been forced into retirement with an ongoing neck injury.
Skipper Gallen, who will miss the match with a neck injury, said he had never seen an injury ward which ran as deep as Cronulla’s.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gallen said. “You might get one team unlucky to have a syndesmosis injury but we got two in the first 10 weeks and to two of our top three players.
“Our whole starting backline bar Michael Gordon is out. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s tough.
“I think we might win this week. I have a sneaky feeling. If we win then we have the bye ... If we win this week and get that psychological feeling of getting off the bottom of the ladder, we’ll get almost everyone back for our next game, against Manly.
“You never know what can happen. Every game I play for Cronulla I’ll be giving my best and not giving up.”
Saturday night’s match pits two struggling teams against each other. The Dragons have lost their past four games and are searching for their first win under new coach Paul McGregor, while Cronulla sit on the bottom of the ladder, losing their past three matches.
The injuries will hand fullback Nathan Gardner his first hitout of the season, with Gordon switching to the centres. Jacob Gagan will play on the wing and Fa’amanu Brown at five-eighth in their NRL debuts. Brown, who is commonly known as Nu, has had plenty to celebrate this week after signing a three-year contract extension with the club.
“I have been pushing him to get a run for a long time,” Gallen said of Brown. “Not as five-eighth but as a hooker. I think that’s his better spot, off the bench as a hooker. He played well in the Auckland Nines. He is a good young kid and he’ll go well.
“(Halfback) Daniel Holdsworth is going to have a big job in the organisational stuff. Nu will be able to do everything else.”
Gallen said Gagan reminded him of former Sharks teammate Ben Pomeroy.
“We call him junior Pom,” Gallen said. “He is big and strong as anyone, and is fast. He has all the physical attributes, he just has to get out there and do it on the field. He has a big opportunity.”
Shane Pumipi and Craig Garvey are expected to share the dummy-half duties for the Dragons in place of the suspended Mitch Rein.
Injured Sharks: 1 Beau Ryan, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Ricky Leutele, 4 Jonathan Wright, 5 Eric Grothe, 6 Todd Carney, 7 Jeff Robson, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 John Morris, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Luke Lewis, 12 Anthony Tupou, 13 Paul Gallen.