COREY PAYNE could be a surprise omission from Canterbury's bench for tonight's preliminary final against South Sydney.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler named a five-man bench but is still undecided on the make-up of his side.
While it's unlikely Hasler will make any changes to the team that defeated Manly in the opening week of the finals, the Herald understands Hasler is considering injecting Dene Halatau into the side.
The Kiwis international, who was one of Canterbury's best before he suffered a knee injury in round 19, has been playing NSW Cup for the past month.
The emergence of rookies Josh Jackson and Dale Finucane has kept Halatau waiting in the wings since his return from the injury he suffered against the Eels just over two months ago.
But it is believed Hasler is trying to squeeze the 29-year-old on to the bench, which also consists of Englishman James Graham, David Stagg, Finucane and Payne.
Graham is a certainty to remain, while David Stagg, who could well be playing his last NRL game considering he is unwanted by all NRL clubs, is unlikely to drop off.
That leaves Finucane and Payne in a two-way battle for the final bench position, that is if Hasler opts to play Halatau.
Given that Halatau would play the role of a wide-running forward, Payne would be the logical choice to be omitted.
While Finucane has the size to mix it the with the big boys through the middle of the paddock, experience isn't on his side. It might prove too big a punt for Hasler to keep the rookie in his side for such a big game.
Ironically Finucane made his debut for the Bulldogs in round 13 against the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium, and has played all of his 12 NRL appearances off the bench.
If Payne was to be axed from Hasler's side for tonight's grand final qualifier at ANZ Stadium, it would be tough to take given he has played in all 25 of the Bulldogs' games this season, all from the bench.
Statistically, Finucane has the edge over his backrow teammate, amassing more runs, metres and tackles on average then Payne.
What could count against Halatau is he has played all his games this year in the starting side, untested by Hasler as an impact player. He has averaged 8.6 runs for 72.7 metres in the 17 games he has played under Hasler this year.
Regardless of who plays for the Bulldogs, they'll know they have to capitalise on any lapses of concentration by the Bunnies during the game.
South Sydney coach Michael Maguire admitted his side had to play for 80 minutes if they were to challenge the Bulldogs.
''Every team is going to challenge you at some stage,'' Maguire said. ''You just need to make sure that through those periods they do come at you, you're aware of what they can do.
''We've done a lot of homework on the Bulldogs, we've played them twice this year so we're well aware of what they're going to throw at us … it's just a matter of making sure the concentration levels are up.''