Melbourne's NRL finals hopes have suffered a fresh blow, with premiership-winning Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes the latest player to be scratched from Friday night's do-or-die clash against the Roosters at AAMI Park. The classy Kiwi halfback had been training away from the main group and did some light running away from the cameras on Thursday but has been unable to overcome a nagging calf complaint.
The Storm confirmed on Thursday night that the calf injury was set to rule the 28-year-old out of Friday night's match, with Tyran Wishart to replace Hughes at halfback. It's yet another blow for coach Craig Bellamy's Storm side, who were already missing Ryan Papenhuyzen, Xavier Coates and Young Tonumaipea for the Roosters clash.
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Melbourne do have other options who could play in the halves, with regular hooker Harry Grant and fullback Nick Meaney both able to step in to the No.7 role. However, Bellamy indicated that Wishart had been training at halfback in the absence of Hughes and will more than likely get the nod on Friday night.
"(Wishart) has done most of the training there (on Thursday), but we've also got a couple of other options we can use," Bellamy said. "There's a bit of shuffling going on but we've got a plan that hopefully we'll be able to stick to."
Jahrome Hughes under injury cloud for NRL finals
The worrying nature of Hughes' calf injury means that even if the Storm are able to overcome the Roosters on Friday night, the halfback is no guarantee to return the following week. Brien Seeney, who runs the reputable NRL Physic account, suggested on social media that Hughes' injury situation was similar to the one that ruled Shaun Johnson out of the last week's first finals clash for the Warriors. The Kiwi No.7 has also been under a massive injury cloud for Saturday's NRL finals clash with Newcastle in Auckland.
"Jahrome Hughes a confirmed out for the Storm this week, pulling up with “calf tightness” after the first finals game," the NRL Physio account tweeted. "If Storm advance would imagine he will still be in some doubt for a Prelim - as we’ve seen with Shaun Johnson calf issues can be tough to get on top of quickly."
Jahrome Hughes a confirmed out for the Storm this week, pulling up with “calf tightness” after the first finals game. If Storm advance would imagine he will still be in some doubt for a Prelim - as we’ve seen with Shaun Johnson calf issues can be tough to get on top of quickly
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) September 14, 2023
The absence of Hughes is set to present Melbourne with a huge test as they hope to bounce back from last week's 26-0 trouncing by Brisbane and avoid going out in straight-sets. With Papenhuyzen suffering another devastating season-ending injury in that Broncos match and Coates also picking up an ankle injury, Bellamy has recalled Reimis Smith as Coates' replacement, along with centre Justin Olam.
"They bring a bit of experience in there," Bellamy said. "It wasn't easy, leaving them out because they've done such a good job over a long period of time. Hopefully, they'll be all excited about (playing the Roosters). I have no doubt their experience will be good for the team."
The Roosters have some massive injury concerns of their own after the rollercoaster elimination final victory over the Sharks last week. Centre Billy Smith played through a large chunk of that gutsy win with a broken jaw and will be joined on the sidelines by gun duo Joey Manu (hamstring injury) and Joseph Suaalii (concussion protocols).
Shaun Johnson racing clock to be fit for Warriors
Meantime, Johnson's place in the Warriors team for the other finals match on Saturday looks set to come down to the wire, despite him being named in the 17 for coach Andrew Webster's side. The loss of their chief playmaker was a huge blow in week one of the finals as they were dismantled 32-6 by premiers Penrith. A photo from Warriors training this week showed Johnson's calf still heavily strapped as the halfback was put through his paces.
As the NRL Physio pointed out, if Johnson does indeed play for the Warriors it will likely not be at 100%, due to the nature of the calf injury. "Shaun Johnson has progressed well this week as he looks to overcome a calf injury. Still on a modified training program but Warriors are hopeful he will be available on Saturday," he wrote. "Even if he plays considering his prep and lingering nature of calf strains, will be tough to be at 100 per cent."
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