Canberra Raiders hooker Tom Starling has been ruled out for the final three matches of the NRL season after fracturing his jaw in Thursday's loss to the Melbourne Storm.
In a double blow to the club's forward stocks, the eighth-placed Green Machine will be without two of its key pack members - Starling and Corey Harawira-Naera - for its do-or-die battle with at least four other clubs for the final two spots in the top eight.
Starling, 23, will have further examinations on Tuesday to determine if he will require surgery, but said the club's medical staff did not think he would.
"He's fairly confident I won't need surgery but he wants me to come in and have another look at it and probably get some more scans," Starling said.
"I can't remember the exact hit it was but I think it was around the 10 (minutes) to go mark.
"I just copped a knee from one of their players, just crushing the jaw and I felt it straight away. I wasn't sure if it was just a good whack or what happened. I felt it crack but I thought I'd just play through and see what happens after the game."
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Despite the fracture, the Raiders hooker played out the remainder of the match, with initial X-rays after the game confirming a fracture at the back of his jaw.
"I didn't want to take up another interchange so I played through. I got a couple more whacks on it but it wasn't too bad," Starling said.
"It's my first real injury I've ever had. I've never really missed a game of footy for injury so it's a bit of a weird feeling. Hopefully it's only a short period, as the boys are gearing up for a big three games and getting into the semi-finals, so I'll be pushing for that for sure."
Adding to the mix, back-rower Harawira-Naera has been suspended for the remainder of the regular season after being sent off for his high shot on Melbourne halfback Jahrome Hughes in the dying minutes last week.
The match review committee charged the 26-year-old with a grade three reckless high tackle and handed him a three-week suspension, meaning the New Zealand international's season will be over unless the Raiders make the finals.
Similarly the side is monitoring captain Jarrod Croker, who will have to undergo concussion protocols ahead of Friday's game against the Manly Sea Eagles, after he failed a head injury assessment during their 26-16 loss.
However, one boost to the side is the return of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to a full training load. The 26-year-old was initially ruled out indefinitely in round five after having surgery on a neck injury he suffered against Penrith.
His return adds to Ricky Stuart's fullback roster. Despite having no set date set for his return as he continues weekly assessments, it is expected he will be available for selection against Manly.
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