Ryan Papenhuyzen will play his first NRL game in over 12 months on Saturday, while Nicho Hynes has been ruled out of Cronulla's blockbuster clash with Newcastle. Hynes has picked up a quad injury at training and won't be able to line up for the Sharks this weekend.
The severity of the injury is not yet known, but the Sharks could be playing it safe with their superstar halfback so close to the NRL finals. Hynes missed the first three games of the 2023 season after suffering a calf tear in the pre-season.
Cronulla have seemingly sewn up a spot in the top eight with just two games remaining in the regular season, however a number of upset results could still see them miss out. Just one competition point separated the fifth-placed Sharks and seventh-placed Knights on the ladder heading into Round 26.
Hynes' absence will be a huge boost for Newcastle, who are chasing their eighth-consecutive victory on Sunday. Kalyn Ponga has led his side to a remarkable turnaround that could see the Knights finish as high as fifth at the end of Round 27.
The Sharks have been on a roll in recent weeks, beating South Sydney, Gold Coast and North Queensland to turn around a season that looked in danger of falling apart. Veteran playmaker Matt Moylan is now expected to partner Braydon Trindall in the halves on Sunday.
would’ve been game of the year too
— nicholas (@cammurraylover) August 25, 2023
Ryan Papenhuyzen to play first NRL game in 13 months
While it's bad news for the Sharks, it's a different story for Papenhuyzen and the Melbourne Storm. The livewire fullback, who hasn't played in the NRL for over 12 months due to a kneecap injury, cruised through Melbourne's captain's run on Friday and has been included on the bench for the Storm's clash with Gold Coast on Sunday.
Papenhuyzen has come through three games unscathed with the Storm's feeder side Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Queensland Cup over the last three weeks. With just a Thursday night clash against fellow heavyweights Brisbane remaining before the finals, the Titans game is the perfect opportunity for Papenhuyzen to get his feet wet at NRL level again.
Speaking earlier on Friday, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy wasn't giving any guarantees about whether or not Papenhuyzen would play. "We'll see how he pulls up from training today and then if he pulls up OK, and I mean 100 per cent OK, there's a good chance that we will put him in somewhere tomorrow," Bellamy said.
"We're not going to take any chances now - since he's been playing there's a couple of sessions he's pulled up real sore from so he mightn't of trained the next session or being in doubt for the Queensland Cup. We're still not expecting too much of him so we'll see how he goes today and then go from there."
Former Storm captain Cameron Smith previously said he wanted to see Papenhuyzen play NRL this week, while current Melbourne fullback Nick Meaney revealed Bellamy had flagged the possibility he might need to put him on the bench to accommodate Papenhuyzen at some stage. Meaney will remain at fullback against the Titans, with Papenhuyzen to be injected later in the game.
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) August 25, 2023
The fourth-placed Storm shouldn't have any troubles against the 13th-placed the Titans, although the Gold Coast did win their previous encounter 38-34 earlier this year. Bellamy said he was "surprised" to see Parramatta upset competition leaders Penrith 32-18 on Thursday night and pointed out how teams who are out of finals contention can easily spring a surprise because they have nothing to lose.
"Teams that can't make the finals, they've got nothing to lose, so they probably throw the ball around a little bit more than what they generally would as it frees them up," he said. "If you don't go out and defend that well, that's when you really get hurt. If they play that ad-lib footy and the passes stick it's hard to handle."
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