Peta Hiku is set to give the Warriors a boost after making an unexpected recovery from shoulder surgery, but coach Nathan Brown concedes his return may be too late to help their finals hopes if they lose to South Sydney.
Hiku, who will move to North Queensland next season, had been thought to have played his last game for the Warriors after dislocating his shoulder in April but Brown confirmed the Kiwi international may be available next week.
However, Brown admitted last weekend’s brave 30-16 loss to Penrith and a series of narrow defeats by the Sharks, Dragons, Knights, Cowboys and Eels have left the Warriors in a must-win situation against the Rabbitohs.
While their for-and-against is better than some of the teams above them, they are on just 12 competition points with seven rounds remaining.
Despite the desperate situation facing the Warriors on Saturday, Brown revealed captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck had been ruled out because of a club policy for concussions – regardless of whether he had passed the NRL’s HIA protocols.
The Warriors also lost Tohu Harris (knee) and Wayde Egan (shoulder) for the season against the Panthers, but Tuivasa-Sheck, Hiku and halfback Chanel Harris-Tavita may be available for next week’s clash with Wests Tigers.
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"We are hopeful of Pet being available next week," Brown said. "To Pet’s credit he has looked after himself really well and he has worked really hard.
"With losing players to other clubs, different players at different times just feel they will take the easy way out, but Pet has knuckled down and probably worked harder than he has worked in the past.
"Now he has got himself in a position where he can play the back part of the year because it is a pretty nasty injury that he had but it shows that if you make some sacrifices and put the right effort in you can shave some time off."
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Brown said the example Hiku had set for the young outside backs at the Warriors, such as Reece Walsh, Rocco Berry and Adam Pompey, with his work ethic was arguably as important as the impact he may have on the field in coming weeks.
The Warriors are at the bottom of a logjam with seven other clubs vying for the last two spots in the final eight and face the Tigers, Sharks, Bulldogs, Broncos and Titans after the Rabbitohs.
Asked what impact a loss to Souths would have on their finals hopes, Brown said: "It would probably just about end it, I would have thought.
"The one advantage we do have over all the sides we are fighting with is that our for-and-against is a lot better, but we certainly need to see some wins on the board."
The club has taken a firm stance on concussions, with players who lose consciousness stood down the following week.
"We just feel it is best to give Roger a week to recover well and I am sure next week he will be fine to play," Brown said.
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With Tuivasa-Sheck and Harris out, Tongan prop Addin Fonua-Blake will take over the captaincy for the first time, while teenage hooker Taniela Otukolo comes into the squad for Egan.
Brown said Otukolo was considered a long-term dummy-half prospect and he would watch with interest to see if the Tongan-born 19-year-old was ready for the step up or if the club needed to recruit a back-up hooker.
“We looked everywhere for one and couldn’t find anyone. We have got the two younger ones there [Otukolo and Temple Kalepo] and it is always better to go looking in your own backyard first, I believe."
Meanwhile, the NRL has fined Warriors prop Kane Evans $5000 for writing an obscenity on his wrist tape during last Sunday’s match against Penrith.
Evans was the 18th man for the Warriors and didn’t make it onto the field but television cameras picked up the offensive language, "fold some c---", on his strapping tape while he sat on the bench.
Brown said Evans had paid a hefty price for his actions.
"We don’t need to sanction Kane, the NRL has already done that," he said.
"They have given him a $5,000 fine so it was an expensive piece of writing, I suppose you could say.
"If that is the worst thing Kane Evans does, well he has copped a kick up the backside and we will move on with it.
"Kane is a good lad who has only been with us short term. He is very popular amongst the boys and he is a terrific bloke.
"But good people do some silly things sometimes and on this occasion Kane has done something that as a club we feel is a little bit silly."