St George Illawarra have made the controversial call to award the captaincy to Jack de Belin in Round 13 with regular skipper Ben Hunt away on Origin duty with Queensland.
Teams have been announced and de Belin, who missed more than two years when he was subjected to the NRL’s no-fault stand down policy while he faced sexual assault charges, will lead the team out on Thursday in Redcliffe for the clash with the Dolphins.
The move has the potential to trigger a backlash against the Dragons but head of football Ben Haran confirmed to NewsCorp that the club had given the decision the green light.
“Jack is our most experienced player who has been in really good form and carried himself exceptionally well off the field this season,” Haran said.
“We are missing our captain in Ben Hunt and we felt Jack is someone who commands a lot of respect from his teammates. He is part of our leadership group and is a great competitor.”
The 32-year-old forward was later cleared of one charge, with a jury unable to reach a verdict on a further five charges and allowing him to return to the NRL midway through the 2021 campaign. Anthony Griffin, who was sacked by the club last week, considered the possibility of making de Belin skipper later that season.
The Blues considered selecting de Belin in their Origin I squad due to injuries to middle-forward candidates but went with Tevita Pangai jnr instead.
Meanwhile, Kalyn Ponga – after missing out on Queensland honours – has returned to fullback at Newcastle with Lachlan Miller dropped to the interchange. Ponga’s place at five-eighth has gone to Tyson Gamble.
Manly have been dealt a double blow with NSW forward Jake Trbojevic out for six weeks after tearing his calf muscle against the Raiders on Sunday when he made an early comeback in a bid to prove his fitness before Origin.
Ben Trbojevic is joining his older brother on the sidelines for an extended period after the second-rower tore his hamstring in the win over Canberra.
Raiders captain Elliott Whitehead has pleaded no contest to a dangerous contact charge to take a two-match ban rather than pay a $3000 fine. He has entered an early guilty plea for a high tackle charge and will pay the same amount for that offence.
The club announced he had suffered “a minor pec strain” which will keep him on the sideline for an indefinite period.
Brisbane have five Origin players out of action in Round 13 against the Warriors but surprisingly have Kurt Capewell available after he was snubbed by the Maroons.
Capewell, who has the past nine matches for Queensland, lost his spot when Billy Slater announced his team on Monday for game one but the Broncos will still be without Payne Haas in the NSW side as well as Maroons quartet Selwyn Cobbo, Reece Walsh, Tom Flegler and Patrick Carrigan.
North Queensland are set to have four players unavailable as they try to bounce back from their 66-18 drubbing at the hands of the Wests Tigers.
Star forward Jason Taumalolo was not expected back for another couple of weeks from his knee surgery but has been named on the extended bench
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Valentine Holmes, Murray Taulagi and Reuben Cotter are in the Queensland 17 while Tom Dearden has been named in the No.18 jersey so he won’t be released to club duty.
They are up against an Eels side at Parramatta which will be missing just Blues prop Junior Paulo to representative honours. Former NSW forward Ryan Matterson is out a cloud due to a calf injury.
Tongan international and Maroons representative Joe Ofahengaue will bolster the Eels after earlier on Tuesday completing his delayed mid-season arrival from the Wests Tigers.
Eels head of football Mark O’Neill said: “Joe is a timely addition to the Eels’ squad, considering the injury status of some of our key forwards. His power game will suit our style of football, his NRL and Origin experience will be valuable for some of our emerging forwards and his character will be great for the overall culture of the club.”
Roosters lock Victor Radley has copped the three-match ban for his foolish headbutt in the loss to the Dragons last Friday. They have the bye this week so he will not play again until Round 17.
Dolphins forward Felise Kaufusi is out of Origin I but can play for Queensland if required in the second match in Brisbane on June 21 after submitting an early guilty plea for his high tackle on Melbourne prop Christian Welch. He is out for three games instead of risking a fourth with a trip to the judiciary.
South Sydney will consider playing Campbell Graham against Canberra on Saturday despite a sternum injury forcing the centre’s sudden withdrawal from the NSW State of Origin camp.
The 23-year-old joined the Blues as 18th man at their Coogee camp on Sunday night but subsequently informed team staff his recurrent sternum injury had flared up in recent days. NSW officials then took the decision to stand him down from the squad.
Graham has required pre-game injections to make it through his club duties with South Sydney and has been wearing a chest guard in recent weeks. Scans revealed bone fragments around the injury and the centre was forced to postpone his involvement with the Blues, leaving their camp on Monday.
Taking something of a swipe at the Blues, however, Souths revealed he had not yet been ruled out of Saturday’s match against Canberra, saying his condition would be monitored during the week.
“For a number of weeks, Graham has been managing his training loads at the beginning of each week to allow him to be fit on game day,” a statement from the Rabbitohs read. “Unfortunately, this meant he would not be able to be fully involved in the Blues early sessions this week and, as a result, they withdrew him from the squad.”
Round 13 teams
Dolphins vs Dragons, at Kayo Stadium – 7.50pm, Thursday, May 25
Dolphins: 1. Kodi Nikorima 2. Jamayne Isaako 3. Euan Aitken 4. Brenko Lee 5. Tesi Niu 6. Anthony Milford 7. Isaiya Katoa 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. Herman Ese’ese 11. Kenny Bromwich 12. Connelly Lemuelu 13. Ray Stone 14. Jarrod Wallace 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Mason Teague 17. Valynce Te Whare 18. Poasa Faamausili 19. Kurt Donoghoe 20. Edrick Lee 21. Jeremiah Simbiken 22. JJ Collins
With Felise Kaufusi suspended for three weeks and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Tom Gilbert in the Queensland camp, Wayne Bennett has made a few changes.
Kodi Nikorima switches to fullback with Anthony Milford in at five-eighth. Mark Nicholls (broken thumb) will bolster the pack while Valynce Te Whare also returns on the interchange after his two-try effort on debut in Magic Round.
Dragons: 1. Tyrell Sloan 2. Mathew Feagai 3. Moses Suli 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Talatau Amone 7. Jayden Sullivan 8. Francis Molo 9. Jacob Liddle 10. Michael Molo 11. Jack Bird 12. Ben Murdoch-Masila 13. Jack de Belin 14. Moses Mbye 15. Toby Couchman 16. Jaiyden Hunt 17. Josh Kerr 18. Billy Burns 19. Max Feagai 20. Zane Musgrove 21. Viliami Fifita 22. Paul Turner
Front-rower Blake Lawrie is out with a hand injury while Jaydn Su’A is also sidelined by a minor hamstring problem. Jack Bird will return from his knee injury. Ben Hunt (Maroons duty) has been replaced at halfback by Jayden Sullivan with Moses Mbye earning an interchange reprieve.
Eels vs Cowboys, at CommBank Stadium – 8pm, Friday, May 26
Eels: 1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Viliami Penisini 4. Bailey Simonsson 5. Sean Russell 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Wiremu Greig 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Joe Ofahengaue 11. Bryce Cartwright 12. Matt Doorey 13. J’maine Hopgood 14. Ofahiki Ogden 15. Brendan Hands 16. Luca Moretti 17. Makahesi Makatoa 18. Daejarn Asi 19. Haze Dunster 20. Ky Rodwell 21. Jack Murchie 22. Isaac Lumelume
NSW prop Junior Paulo is a confirmed out while Ryan Matterson (calf) is also absent, opening the door for Joe Ofahengaue to make his Eels debut after his switch from the Tigers. Second-rower Luca Moretti will make his debut from the bench.
Cowboys: 1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Zac Laybutt 4. Peta Hiku 5. Robert Derby 6. Ben Hampton 7. Chad Townsend 8. Jordan McLean 9. Reece Robson 10. Coen Hess 11. Luciano Leilua 12. Heilum Luki 13. Jake Granville 14. Jack Gosiewski 15. Kulikefu Finefeuiaki 16. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 17. Griffin Neame 18. Mitchell Dunn 19. Brendan Elliot 20. Sam McIntyre 21. Thomas Duffy 22. Jason Taumalolo
With Valentine Holmes, Murray Taulagi, Reuben Cotter and Tom Dearden in Maroons camp, Ben Hampton comes into the halves, and debutants Robert Derby (wing) and Zac Laybutt (centre) have earned call-ups. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown is back on the bench after a concussion forced him out of the team that was whipped by Wests Tigers.
Jason Taumalolo was not expected back for another couple of weeks from his knee surgery but has been named on the extended bench along with Griffin Neame (throat) while Jeremiah Nanai has one more match to serve for his hip-drop ban.
Warriors vs Broncos, at McLean Park, Napier – 5.30pm, Saturday, May 27
Warriors: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Rocco Berry 4. Adam Pompey 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Luke Metcalf 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Freddy Lussick 10. Bunty Afoa 11. Jackson Ford 12. Marata Niukore 13. Tohu Harris 14. Bayley Sironen 15. Josh Curran 16. Demitric Sifakula 17. Tom Ale 18. Ronald Volkman 20. Taine Tuaupiki 21. Ali Leiataua 22. Kalani Going 23. Zyon Maiu’u
Five-eighth Ronald Volkman played on with a compound broken finger in the last-start win over Canterbury and has been named in the reserves for the Napier clash with Luke Metcalf listed in the No.6 jersey.
Wayde Egan (calf) is out with Freddy Lussick again replacing him at hooker.
Veteran forward Mitch Barnett has been out with a neck injury since Round 3 but the club is confident he will be back potentially next weekend.
Broncos: 1. Tristan Sailor 2. Jesse Arthars 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Herbie Farnworth 5. Deine Mariner 6. Ezra Mam 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Keenan Palasia 9. Billy Walters 10. Corey Jensen 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Jordan Riki 13. Kobe Hetherington 14. Cory Paix 15. Xavier Willison 16. Brendan Piakura 17. Martin Taupau 18. Jock Madden 19. Tyson Smoothy 20. Delouise Hoeter 21. Israel Leota 22. Benjamin Te Kura
Origin reps Payne Haas, Tom Flegler and Patrick Carrigan missing from the pack means Keenan Palasia, Brendan Piakura and Xavier Willison have been elevated to the game-day line-up.
Tristan Sailor, son of Broncos legend Wendell Sailor, has been named at fullback in his first NRL appearance since a brief stint with St George Illawarra ended two years ago, replacing Maroons No.1 Reece Walsh.
Queensland winger Selwyn Cobbo’s wing spot will be taken by Deine Mariner.
Adam Reynolds (neck/concussion) should be right to return at the expense of halfback Jock Madden.
Rabbitohs vs Raiders, at Accor Stadium – 7.35pm, Saturday, May 27
Rabbitohs: 1. Blake Taaffe 2. Alex Johnston 3. Isaiah Tass 4. Campbell Graham 5. Taane Milne 6. Cody Walker 7. Lachlan Ilias 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Hame Sele 11. Michael Chee Kam 12. Jacob Host 13. Liam Knight 14. Jed Cartwright 15. Tallis Duncan 16. Shaq Mitchell 17. Daniel Suluka-Fifita 18. Richard Kennar 19. Tyrone Munro 20. Peter Mamouzelos 21. Keaon Koloamatangi 22. Dean Hawkins
Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Murray and Jai Arrow are away with Origin so Blake Taaffe is to be the new fullback with Shaq Mitchell and Tallis Duncan to bolster the pack.
Campbell Graham (sternum) has been named despite the Blues sending him away from camp due to his sternum complaint. If he is out, Jed Cartwright could be used again in the centres in his concussion return with Richie Kennar another option.
Front-rower Tom Burgess (back) is still out.
Raiders: 1. Sebastian Kris 2. Albert Hopoate 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Matthew Timoko 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Josh Papali’i 9. Zac Woolford 10. Pasami Saulo 11. Corey Harawira-Naera 12. Corey Horsburgh 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Tom Starling 15. Emre Guler 16. Nick Cotric 17. Ata Mariota 18. Hohepa Puru 19. Danny Levi 20. Matt Frawley 21. Harley Smith-Shields 22. Peter Hola
Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii retiring from Origin means Hudson Young is Canberra’s only representative absentee with Corey Harawira-Naera to return to the pack after a stint in the NSW Cup.
Zac Woolford (concussion) is available and Tom Starling stays on the bench with Danny Levi back in the reserves.
Elliott Whitehead’s suspension brings Nick Cotric onto the interchange with Pasami Saulo elevated to the run-on side.
Knights vs Sea Eagles, at McDonald Jones Stadium – 4.05pm, Sunday, May 28
Knights: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Dominic Young 3. Dane Gagai 4. Bradman Best 5. Greg Marzhew 6. Tyson Gamble 7. Jackson Hastings 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Phoenix Crossland 10. Leo Thompson 11. Jack Johns 12. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 13. Adam Elliott 14. Lachlan Miller 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Jack Hetherington 17. Mathew Croker 18. Dylan Lucas 19. Enari Tuala 20. Brodie Jones 21. Adam Clune 22. Kurt Mann
Kalyn Ponga passed his HIA so will be available after missing out on Queensland honours but has returned to fullback with Lachlan Miller dropped to the interchange.
Tyson Gamble will partner Jackson Hastings in the halves while utility Kurt Mann (abdominal strain) is a chance of returning after being named among the reserves.
Sea Eagles: 1. Kaeo Weekes 2. Jason Saab 3. Brad Parker 4. Tolutau Koula 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Josh Schuster 7. Cooper Johns 8. Taniela Paseka 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Toafofoa Sipley 11. Haumole Olakau’atu 12. Samuela Fainu 13. Sean Keppie 14. Christian Tuipulotu 15. Karl Lawton 16. Ethan Bullemor 17. Ben Condon 18. Morgan Boyle 19. Jakob Arthur 20. Dean Matterson 21. Gordon Chan Kum Tong 22. Morgan Harper
Tom Trbojevic’s absence at fullback opens the door for Kaeo Weekes to switch into the No.1 jersey with Cooper Johns replacing Daly Cherry-Evans at half and new recruit Jake Arthur in the reserves.
Jake Trbojevic is out for six weeks with a calf tear while Ben Trbojevic is likely to be sidelined a similar length of time with a torn hamstring. Samuela Fainu has been brought into the starting pack while winger Christian Tuipulotu has been called onto the interchange.
Bye – Panthers, Bulldogs, Roosters, Sharks, Storm, Titans, Tigers