Warriors forward Leivahu Pulu's decision to return home to New Zealand is set to make St George Illawarra's pursuit of recruits for their two remaining roster spots harder as rival clubs are more willing to loan players than release them due to injury concerns.
The Warriors have been given permission to replace Pulu with a player on loan from another NRL club after he flew home on Thursday to be with his pregnant wife, Tolina, who was involved in a car accident in Auckland.
The club this week secured the services of Penrith forward Jack Hetherington on loan after Sydney Roosters recalled Poasa Faamausili to cover injuries to Victor Radley and Sam Verrills during last Friday night's match against the Dragons.
Brisbane and Manly are other clubs to have been hit hard by injuries, while St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor had just 23 available players for Friday night's trip to Canberra after the club recently released veteran prop James Graham and hooker Issac Luke.
All clubs need to have their 29-man roster completed by August 3 and that is the immediate focus of St George Illawarra pathways and list management director Ian Millward, as well as finding a replacement for Newcastle-bound second-rower Tyson Frizell.
Raiders v Dragons - Round 8
The Dragons are also waiting to learn the outcome of Jack de Belin's court case before considering signing the likes of North Queensland's John Asiata or Canterbury's Adam Elliott, as they play the same position as the former NSW Origin lock.
However, finding new recruits for this season is proving difficult as St George Illawarra are competing with the Warriors for middle forwards and rival clubs are keener to loan players they can call back if they incur injuries later in the season.
With State of Origin having been moved to the end of the season, there are no byes and clubs are scheduled to play for 18 consecutive weeks from the competition re-start on May 28 to round 20, which concludes on September 27.
Those clubs making the final eight could then have a further four weeks of play-off matches, with the grand final on October 25.
"If you look at the injury toll at the weekend across the NRL, it has sort of put a full stop in a few areas where it is hard to recruit for this season right now because of clubs not being willing to free up players because of the 18 games straight," McGregor said.
"We are only seven games into it now and there has been a high number of injuries."
The Warriors have the longest casualty list in the NRL, with forwards Leeson Ah Mau (pectoral), Jazz Tevaga (calf), Eliesa Katoa (ankle), Nathaniel Roache (knee) and Bunty Afoa (knee) all sidelined by injury, along with rookie playmaker Adam Keighran (knee).
Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was suspended from Saturday night's match against Brisbane by the NRL judiciary on Tuesday night.
Warriors give the NRL a deadline
Pulu's return to New Zealand, where he will undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine before being reunited with Tolina, has compounded their lack of forward depth and the situation could get even worse with Agnatius Paasi among three players also considering heading home.
"Vaha's [Pulu's] wife and baby are okay but he just wants to be closer to them, naturally," Warriors CEO Cameron George said.
"He has also told us that if they can get exemptions he will go back. It is really tough on everyone – the families and the players – and we have to try to see if we can get that end result."
Paasi and star wingers Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a have agreed to stay in Gosford with their Warriors teammates until July 19 while the NRL continue to seek exemptions for their partners and families to enter Australia from Border Force.
Many of the other Warriors squad members have now been joined by their families after undergoing 14-days quarantine upon arrival in Australia.
Pulu had been considering returning home before his wife's car accident and hooker Karl Lawton said he told the players of his decision on Wednesday.
"That was definitely the icing on the cake. I think once the accident happened it was silly not to shoot back home. He was a bit shaken up, as you would be," Lawton said.
"We had a meeting yesterday and he just said everything that was happening. All the boys are happy for him to leave. No-one is going to stand in his way."