Late Mail and Casualty Ward: Raiders reshuffle, Cartwright returns
A goalkicking injury to Aidan Sezer at training has deepened Canberra's injury woes, with Blake Austin set to come into the Raiders halves for their crunch clash with Cronulla on Friday.
Austin will partner Sam Williams in the halves after Sezer injured his hamstring late in Tuesday's training session, with scans still yet to confirm how long the No.7 will be sidelined for alongside fellow backline stars Jarrod Croker (knee) and Jack Wighton (stood down on disciplinary grounds).
Austin and Williams shape as Canberra's most likely options to take the kicking tee, while winger Jordan Rapana is another option.
Meanwhile, on the Gold Coast Bryce Cartwright will return from a broken hand via feeder side Tweed Heads in the Intrust Super Cup.
Cartwright had surgery after busting his hand three weeks ago in a training drill, compounding a horror year for the back-rower since arriving from junior club Penrith.
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has hinted prodigious fullback Kalyn Ponga may be kept in cotton wool for next week's showdown with his former club North Queensland.
Ponga won't play against the Titans this Saturday as he continues to recover from a torn hamstring, and Brown says he won't take any chances with the youngster despite the looming grudge match.
"He ran pretty well today, but we want him to have a full week of training before he plays," Brown said.
"If he can't do a full week of training next week, he may need to give it a miss [for the Cowboys game].
"But they were confident when it happened that he would be back in the three-week range."
Here is the late mail for each match heading into round 19:
Parramatta Eels v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Thursday 7.50pm at ANZ Stadium
Eels: Cameron King's month-long lay-off with a knee injury sustained against Newcastle sees Kaysa Pritchard return to the starting line-up, with no other changes expected from Brad Arthur. Kane Evans and Suaia Matagi were the two players to drop off the bench 24 hours out from kick-off.
Bulldogs: Tipped to be 1-17 for a game already being dubbed the "spoon bowl" with the western Sydney powerhouses sitting at the wrong end of the ladder. Matthew Frawley and Francis Tualau were the two players omitted from the extended bench 24 hours out from kick-off.
Cronulla Sharks v Canberra Raiders, Friday 6pm at Southern Cross Group Stadium
Sharks: No changes expected with Luke Lewis (calf) and Josh Dugan (leg) another week away.
Raiders: Sezer's hamstring issue sees yet another reshuffle to the Raiders' decimated backline, with Blake Austin to partner Sam Williams in the halves. Rookie back-rower Jack Murchie looms as the most likely addition to Canberra's bench.
Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers, Friday 7.55pm at Suncorp Stadium
Broncos: Tevita Pangai jnr still needs to pass a fitness test on his hamstring at Thursday's captains' run to take his place against Penrith. James Roberts (Achilles) and Joe Ofahengaue (knee) are both nursing injuries but at this stage are right to play.
Panthers: James Maloney is expected to pass muster at Penrith's final training run on the Gold Coast having been cleared of a foot fracture last week. Winger Josh Mansour will return from his gruesome facial fracture for his first game since round six, while Tyrone May will be among the two players dropped from the Panthers extended squad to prepare for Intrust Super Premiership duties on the weekend.
Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans, Saturday 3pm at McDonald Jones Stadium
Knights: Lachlan Fitzgibbon's return from suspension has seen him named on Nathan Brown's bench, but he may still come into the starting line-up given his strong form in 2018. Nathan Ross's elevation to the run-on side could also see Jack Cogger brought into the game-day 17 as backline cover on the bench.
Titans: Expected to be 1-17 as Cartwright makes his return with feeder side Tweed Heads. Keegan Hipgrave returns after sitting out last week's loss to the Roosters with concussion.
Wests Tigers v South Sydney Rabbitohs, Saturday 5.30pm at ANZ Stadium
Wests Tigers: Rocked by the season-ending injury to Josh Reynolds (shoulder), the Tigers are not in line for any changes for Robbie Farah's 250th club appearance.
Rabbitohs: 1-17 with injured skipper Greg Inglis impressing in his return to the training paddock but still at least a few weeks away. Fellow outside back Richie Kennar is also back from a foot injury and would have returned with North Sydney this week if they didn't have the bye. He will be available for first grade selection next week.
North Queensland Cowboys v St George Illawarra Dragons, Saturday 7.35pm at 1300Smiles Stadium
Cowboys: Lachlan Coote has been named at fullback for both North Queensland and feeder side Mackay, raising hopes young gun Jake Clifford could be brought in for an NRL debut despite Paul Green playing down the suggestion. Matt Scott remains troubled by his ongoing neck issues, however the club is not considering surgery at this stage to aid his recovery.
Dragons: Nene MacDonald has been named for the Dragons but is unlikely to be risked as the club awaits scan results on a foot injury. There are fears the PNG international could be sidelined for the long term, however swelling around his injury has held up the diagnosis. Utility Kurt Mann is his likely replacement out wide.
New Zealand Warriors v Melbourne Storm, Sunday 2pm at Mt Smart Stadium
Warriors: Bunty Afoa's inclusion on an extended bench a week earlier than he was expected to be back from an elbow injury could see him come in for youngster Joseph Vuna.
Storm: Dale Finucane is tracking well in his recovery from a broken thumb and provided he comes through training this week will be on the plane to New Zealand and into Craig Bellamy's side at the expense of Tui Kamikamica.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Sydney Roosters, Sunday 4.10pm at Lottoland
Sea Eagles: No changes expected for Manly with Dylan Walker (knee) kept on ice and Manase Fainu elevated to the club's top 30 squad, which allows him to remain in first grade despite Lewis Brown's return from injury.
Roosters: Boyd Cordner, Latrell Mitchell and James Tedesco are all back after being rested post-Origin, while Mitch Aubusson continues to be monitored after sitting out last week's defeat of the Titans with hamstring soreness. Nat Butcher is his likely replacement but Aubusson is expected to take his place on the bench.
Here's how the 16 NRL clubs are shaping up on the injury front.
Jaydn Su'A has suffered a broken ankle and could miss the rest of the season while Tevita Pangai jnr is expected to recover from a hamstring injury in time for this week's game against Penrith.
Andre Savelio (knee, season)
Matt Gillett (neck/calf, round 22/23)
Payne Haas (shoulder, season)
Jack Bird (sternum, indefinite)
Jaydn Su'A (ankle, season)
Tevita Pangai jnr (hamstring, round 19)
Skipper Jarrod Croker is out for the season with a dislocated knee suffered against the Cowboys, while scans are still to determine how long Aidan Sezer is out for.
Jack Wighton (stood down on disciplinary grounds)
Shannon Boyd (calf, round 22)
Brad Abbey (concussion, round 19)
Ata Hingano (ankle, season)
Joseph Tapine (suspension, round 20)
Jarrod Croker (dislocated kneecap, season)
Aidan Sezer (hamstring, TBC)
Raymond Faitala-Mariner (broken hand, knee, season)
Marcelo Montoya (hamstring, season)
Kieran Foran (toe, season)
Josh Dugan's stress fracture in his leg is healing slower than the Sharks would like, however coach Shane Flanagan hopes to have the star centre back on deck for next week's round 20 clash with Brisbane.
Josh Dugan (stress fracture, round 20)
Luke Lewis (calf, round 20)
Jayson Bukuya (shoulder, TBC)
Jesse Ramien (collarbone, round 19)
Kurt Capewell (thumb, round 24)
Gold Coast Titans
Jai Arrow will return against the Knights after being rested in the Titans loss on Sunday night.
Max King (shoulder, season)
Dale Copley (hamstring, season)
Bryce Cartwright (broken hand, round 20)
Keegan Hipgrave (concussion, round 19)
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Dylan Walker's partially dislocated knee has sidelined him for another week after he was a late scratching from Manly's last-start loss to Melbourne.
Dylan Walker (knee, round 20)
Lachlan Croker (ACL, season)
Curtis Sironen (knee, season)
Jack Gosiewski (broken arm, round 20)
Apisai Koroisau (foot, round 22-24)
Akuila Uate (ankle, season)
Sam Kasiano's recovery from a posterior cruciate ligament injury suffered playing for Samoa in the Pacific Test is progressing well, with an earlier than expected pre-finals return slated for the big man.
"He'll be back we think maybe two weeks before the finals," Storm general manager Frank Ponissi said.
"Hopefully he can get a couple of games under his belt, maybe three weeks but more than likely two."
Dale Finucane (thumb, round 19)
Sam Kasiano (knee, round 23-24)
Christian Welch (concussion, TBC)
Knights centre Sione Mata'utia has escaped surgery on a fractured eye socket but will miss up to three weeks with the injury after leaving the field late in the side's win over Parramatta.
Sione Mata'utia (eye socket, round 22)
Jacob Saifiti (shoulder, round 24)
Tautau Moga (knee, season)
Kalyn Ponga (hamstring, round 20)
Slade Griffin (knee, season)
Lachlan Fitzgibbon (suspension, round 19)
North Queensland Cowboys
Michael Morgan (biceps, season)
Jordan McLean (foot, round 20)
Josh Chudleigh (knee, season)
Sam Hoare (knee, season)
Matt Scott (neck, round 20)
Tony Williams (knee, season)
Beau Scott (knee, retired)
Manu Ma'u (cheekbone/eye socket, season)
Will Smith (hamstring, round 21)
Josh Hoffman (shoulder, round 20)
Cameron King (knee, round 24)
Reagan Campbell-Gillard (jaw, round 22-23)
Peter Wallace (shoulder, retired)
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (hamstring, round 20-21)
Dylan Edwards (shoulder, season)
Tim Browne (bowel, retired)
Sam McKendry (knee, season)
Josh Mansour (cheekbone, round 19)
James Maloney (foot, round 19)
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Greg Inglis (thumb, round 21-22)
St George Illawarra Dragons
Swelling around Nene MacDonald's foot injury has delayed a diagnosis on the winger's availability, however he is considered unlikely to be risked against the Cowboys this week.
Jacob Host (shoulder, round 25)
Nene Macdonald (foot, TBC)
Origin trio James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell and Boyd Cordner have all been named to return against Manly after being rested last week, while Cooper Cronk is also set to feature after sitting out the win over the Titans on baby watch. Dylan Napa is still sidelined by an ongoing knee issue while late withdrawal Mitch Aubusson continues to battle a hamstring strain but has been named on the bench.
Mitch Aubusson (hamstring, round 19)
Dylan Napa (knee, indefinite)
Nathaniel Roache (neck, season)
Leivaha Pulu (foot, round 20)
Tohu Harris (knee, round 21-23)
Bunty Afoa (elbow, round 23)
Ken Maumalo (knee, round 19)
Chris Lawrence will have surgery on a broken hand this Thursday as he pushes to return from a hamstring injury for the last few weeks of the regular season.
Josh Reynolds (shoulder, season)
Mahe Fonua (broken arm, round 21-25)
Chris Lawrence (hamstring and broken hand, round 23-24)