Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has turned to rookie NRL playmaker Will Smith to help solve the Panthers’ halves injury crisis and arrest their late season form slump.
Former Newcastle under-20s player Smith will make his first grade debut at five-eighth in Friday’s round 21 clash with Canterbury at ANZ Stadium, after Peter Wallace was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
Wallace joins other halves options for Cleary Tyrone Peachey (pectoral muscle) and Isaac John (Achilles) as casualties for the remainder of the year.
However, winger Josh Mansour (ankle) is a welcome inclusion for Penrith.
Considered one of the fastest players at the Panthers, the 22-year-old Smith can cover fullback, centre and halfback or five-eighth, and signed a two-year deal with Penrith starting this year in a move from the Knights.
Smith’s first NRL assignment will be coming to terms with the Bulldogs’ NSW playmaker Josh Reynolds, who returns from suspension for the vital top four clash.
Captain Michael Ennis said Reynolds’s return was a welcome boost for the Dogs who, like Penrith, have lost their past two matches to slip from the competition lead.
“Josh is a wonderful guy to play with, he brings so much to the sides that he plays in,” Ennis said.
“He will be a real welcome bonus back into our side.”
Josh Morris hasn’t been named to return from his knee injury suffered in State of Origin I but is a chance to play.
North Queensland’s late-season resurgence has been boosted by the return of Australian prop Matt Scott from a cheekbone injury he suffered in Origin I.
Scott has been named alongside James Tamou, for Saturday’s match with Gold Coast in Townsville after his fellow representative bookend overcame a neck injury scare.
Winger Jorge Taufua has been named to return from a foot injury for top-of-the-table Manly’s clash with Brisbane at Brookvale Oval on Friday.
Paul Gallen is still two weeks away from a return from a biceps injury for Cronulla, who host Parramatta at home for Fui Fui Moi Moi’s 200th NRL game.
NSW centre Michael Jennings returns from a back injury sustained in Origin II for the Sydney Roosters match against St George Illawarra at Allianz Stadium.
Shaun Johnson (groin) and Feleti Mateo (calf) are back for the Warriors trip to Canberra on Sunday.
South Sydney are yet to name a replacement for captain John Sutton (knee) who will miss their home clash against Newcastle in Cairns.
Kurt Gidley will replace Jarrod Mullen (stomach muscle tear) at five-eighth for the Knights.
Chris Lawrence (ankle) hasn’t been named for Wests Tigers fixture against Melbourne at Campbelltown Stadium on Monday but could be a late inclusion.