Geoff Toovey admits he will be scouring a bare cupboard in search of a hooker for next Saturday's sudden death finals clash, after rookie Jayden Hodges was injured in Manly 40-24 loss to the Rabbitohs.
Hodges was taken to St Vincent's Hospital by ambulance for scans on a neck injury suffered early in the first half of the six-tries-to-four defeat.
He joins regular dummy-half Matt Ballin (fractured tibia) and utility forward Jamie Buhrer (knee) on the club's casualty list, leaving Toovey without a genuine No. 9 to call on for next week's game against the winner of Sunday's Melbourne-Canterbury elimination final.
Ballin's injury, which halted his run of 182 straight games for the Sea Eagles, was originally expected to rule him out for the rest of the year, before a return for Week 3 of the finals had been rumoured over the past week.
With seemingly no-one else to call on, Toovey refused to rule out a comeback in time for next Saturday's clash for the 30-year-old.
"[Ballin] is a hope but it is long odds given the nature of his injury," Toovey said.
Asked what other options the club had at dummy-half outside of the injured trio, Toovey responded: "That is a good question."
Prop Jason King was optimistic about an early return for the former Maroons hooker, who has been a key component of Manly's dominance over the past seven years.
"Hopefully he can play," King said.
"We are getting a bit short on hookers at the moment. We lost Jayden tonight. I know Matt has been doing everything he can to get back so hopefully he can because he is really important for us going forward so hopefully he can get out there next week".
Hodges was in obvious distress throughout most of the first half after being crunched in an attempted tackle of Rabbitohs fullback Greg Inglis in the fifth minute.
The 21-year-old, playing just his sixth NRL game, played on until halftime before being taken from the ground on a stretcher.
"I think he had a couple of incidents and wasn't real good so the staff made the decision to take him off," Toovey said.
"That didn't help our cause but we can't blame the loss on that."
Manly's injury woes were compounded by senior trio Jamie Lyon, Anthony Watmough and Kieran Foran all being placed on report in the heavy defeat.
Lyon and Watmough will come under scrutiny from the match review committee for a lifting tackle on Inglis in the first half, while Foran collected hooker Issac Luke high early in the second stanza.
Toovey was dismissive of the Foran incident, declaring it "a gee-up," while Lyon argued Inglis had himself contributed to the dangerous position he ended up in.
"Sometimes it looks like he has ducked down on the landing," Lyon said.
"I was just holding him there but I can't really remember the tackle to tell the truth."