Graham, de Belin recoveries step up as McGregor mulls options
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Graham, de Belin recoveries step up as McGregor mulls options

Casualty ward: James Graham ended his day early against the Broncos.

Casualty ward: James Graham ended his day early against the Broncos.

Photo: AAP

James Graham's concussion monitoring is set to begin while representative lock Jack de Belin is resigned to finishing the rest of the finals series with the help of pain-killing injections as a wounded Dragons eye another big scalp.

Graham is expected to undergo the first of a staged process on Tuesday in order to be cleared for a return to the field in St George Illawarra's sudden-death final against the Rabbitohs, less than 48 hours after being ruled out of the win over the Broncos with concussion.

It's one of a number of dilemmas facing Dragons coach Paul McGregor, who will be without captain Gareth Widdop due to a season-ending shoulder dislocation as Euan Aitken and Jason Nightingale close in on returns.

The pair of outside backs were included in the Red V's extended 21-man squad for the trip to Brisbane. Aitken (hamstring) is available for the all-Sydney showdown at ANZ Stadium and Nightingale (dislocated elbow) is also on the cusp of a return.

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It was thought Nightingale's career had come to a premature end after he suffered the injury against the Bulldogs as he readies to hang up his boots.

Whether McGregor is willing to change his outside backs might be another story as 18-year-old Zac Lomax and Jordan Pereira have excelled in recent weeks. Lomax is also a recognised goalkicker, a factor which may weigh heavily in McGregor's thinking given Widdop's absence.

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Gregor will, at the very least, need a bench replacement as Kurt Mann slots into five-eighth, but most focus this week will be on Graham, who remonstrated with medical staff after being knocked out by a stray Korbin Sims arm.

The NRL doesn't adopt a hard-and-fast policy on how many days a player must sit out after a concussion before playing again, evidenced by Roosters hooker Jake Friend returning to the field five days after being ruled out of a game earlier this year.

Graham was in good spirits when the Dragons returned to Sydney on Sunday night and will be pivotal to their chances against a Sam Burgess-led Rabbitohs.

The health of de Belin will also be a concern for the Dragons, but the 27-year-old rated himself a "better than 50 per cent chance" after leaving a game for the second straight week in a moon boot and on crutches with an ankle complaint.

"To be honest with you, I haven’t had a needle in my body – this is my eighth year of first grade – I pretty much haven’t had a needle for seven years," de Belin said. "My whole career I haven’t had a needle but this year for more than half the year I’ve been getting needled.

"It’s one of those things, I’m very lucky in that sense that it's only something minor. If a needle helps me play then I’m more than willing to get jabbed up."

The Rabbitohs have shrugged off their own minor complaints with Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds considered in no doubt for Saturday night, where they will hope to stifle former teammate Cameron McInnes.

"I’ve played them enough now and if I focus too much on playing the old club it takes away from what I need to do for the team," McInnes said. "I’ll just be doing my job the best I can.

"They gave me my first shot, they brought me through and nurtured me. I was lucky enough to come to St George [Illawarra] and get another opportunity, but I never held any ill feeling against them and I never will."