Justin Hodges’ shock comeback for Brisbane and St George Illawarra’s welcome return of star fullback Josh Dugan have overshadowed a team shake-up at struggling South Sydney for Saturday’s NRL clash with the Dragons.
Hodges wasn’t due back for another five weeks after snapping his left Achilles tendon last August but coach Anthony Griffin on Tuesday said the Test centre was instead likely to return for Friday’s hosting of Parramatta at Suncorp Stadium.
Dugan is another high-profile returnee after being named for his first game since suffering a knee injury in the Dragons’ heavy pre-season Charity Shield loss to the Rabbitohs.
In his absence, the Dragons have rebounded to be the surprise competition leaders with three wins from four starts.
“To be honest, I am a little bit nervous about coming into a team that has gelled so well,” Dugan said.
While the Dragons are flying, Souths are staring at a fourth straight defeat, prompting coach Michael Maguire to restore John Sutton to five-eighth for a milestone match for the Rabbitohs captain at the SCG.
Sutton will surpass Bob McCarthy as the most-capped first-grader in Souths history when he lines up for his 212th match in the famous red and green.
Dylan Walker’s combination with halfback Adam Reynolds hasn’t worked, leaving Maguire to revert to what did work so well for the Rabbitohs in 2013 – Sutton in the No.6 jumper.
Walker has been shifted out one spot and centre Bryson Goodwin moves to the wing at the expense of veteran dual international Lote Tuqiri.
Sutton’s switch to the backline has also forced a reshuffle of the Rabbitohs pack, with prop Sam Burgess to start at lock, David Tirrell promoted to the front row and Ben Te’o replacing Ben Lowe in the second row.
In other big team news, Melbourne named both captain Cameron Smith and interchange prop Jordan McLean for the Storm’s hosting of the Gold Coast on Sunday.
A scan has cleared Smith of any structural damage to his back, which had sidelined him last week, while McLean must front the NRL judiciary on Wednesday night to defend a dangerous throw charge from the tackle that has left Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon with a broken neck.
Warriors coach Matt Elliott has restored Konrad Hurrell to the centres as a replacement for Jerome Ropati (broken jaw) for Saturday’s trip to Cronulla to face the winless Sharks.
Adding to the Sharks’ troubles, goalkicking fullback Michael Gordon is in serious doubt with a knee injury.
Classy fullback James Tedesco and forward Cory Paterson must pass NRL concussion tests this week before being confirmed as starters for Wests Tigers’ hosting of Manly at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.
Tedesco and Paterson suffered head knocks against the Warriors, but Liam Fulton and Tim Simona – who both missed Saturday’s game in Wellington with concussion – are expected back this weekend.