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NRL 2019: Each club's biggest injury fear

Sporting News logo Sporting News 19/02/2019

a close up of a man throwing a ball © Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited Finally. It's nearly footy time.

Enough of this hot weather. Enough of the pre-season from hell. It's time for beers, beanies and footy.

But as players transition from training the house down to giving full credit to the boys, it's hard to forget that there will be casualities - some of which can completely break a team.

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With the 2019 season less than a month away, which players can't each club afford to lose?

BRISBANE BRONCOS

a man wearing a white shirt: Matt Gillett © Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited Matt Gillett PLAYER: Matt Gillett

INJURY: Neck, shoulder

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 21 out of 26 Broncos matches.

Brisbane back-rower Gillett was restricted to five games last season having fractured his neck in round one before playing on for another month unaware of the injury.

However, it's his reconstructed shoulder that's now his biggest worry ahead of the new season.

Coming back from a fractured neck and shoulder surgery, Gillett began the pre-season around seven kilograms lighter than his usual weight of 101kg.

But the Queensland and Australian back-rower has now been medically cleared to return to the playing field.

Gillett expects to play around 20 minutes in a trial against Queensland Cup team Wynnum Manly next week.

Provided all goes well, he'll then face the Gold Coast Titans in the Broncos' final hit-out on March 2 before their season-opening match versus the Melbourne Storm on the 14th.

CANBERRA RAIDERS

England's Josh Hodgson © Getty England's Josh Hodgson PLAYER: Josh Hodgson

INJURY: Knee (ACL)

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 14 out of 25 Raiders matches.

Tearing his ACL in a World Cup game for England in 2017, Josh Hodgson was unavailable for the first 14 rounds of 2018.

The Green Machine struggled in his absence, winning only five matches. But upon his return, the team was victorious in five of their final 11 games with Hodgson back on deck.

With winger Jordan Rapana predicted to miss at least three months of the 2019 season, the Raiders can't afford to lose Hodgson again to injury.

CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS

Kiwi Rugby star Kieran Foran © Getty Kiwi Rugby star Kieran Foran PLAYER: Kieran Foran

INJURY: Toe

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 13 out of 25 Bulldogs matches.

Capping off his season with one try, one try assist and one line break assist, Kieran Foran will be eager to get the Bulldogs back on track for 2019.

The star halfback had the ligaments in one of the toes on his left foot reconstructed last June, after an initial surgery failed to solve the issue.

However, 2019 will prove to either make or break the former New Zealand representative, having only played 38 matches across the last three seasons due to off-field issues.

But after last year's controversial off-season, the Bulldogs will be sweating on Foran playing up to his lucrative $1.2 million price tag.

CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS

a man holding a football ball: Josh Dugan © Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited Josh Dugan PLAYER: Josh Dugan

INJURY: Foot, lower leg, neck

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 14 out of Cronulla's 28 matches.

Luckless Cronulla back Josh Dugan will be looking to complete his first season in over three years after a trail of injury mishaps have kept him in and out of the casualty ward.

Over the last three seasons the 28-year-old has suffered a jaw fracture, hamstring strains, an elbow injury, concussion, ankle and fractured cheekbone.

In 2018 alone, the Sharks star was sidelined with injury on three separate occassions after he suffered a fracture to his foot in round 8, a lower leg issue in round twelve, and then injured his shoulder ahead of the preliminary final against Penrith.

GOLD COAST TITANS

PLAYER: Ryan James

INJURY: Knee

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 2 out of the Titan's 25 matches.

Titans captain Ryan James suffered a minor injury to his right knee during preseason training in January.

The injury to his medial ligament initially *ruled him out for* miss two to three weeks of pre-season, but he's now touch and go until round one.

The skipper was also selected in the squad to play the Maori Kiwis on February 15 at AAMI Park but withdrew due to the knee niggle.

MANLY SEA EAGLES

PLAYER: Curtis Sironen

INJURY: Knee (ACL)

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 21 out of 25 Sea Eagles matches.

In one of many setbacks from Manly's year from hell, Curtis Sironen was ruled out of the entire season in the fourth round due to a knee injury.

Tearing his ACL during the Sea Eagles'round four win over Canberra last April, the second-rower only rejoined his teammates for training in November.

But with Lachlan Croker and Apisai Koroisau also returning for Manly's trial against Cronulla on February 23, the club will be looking to move on from last year's mishaps.

MELBOURNE STORM

PLAYER: Suliasi Vunivalu

INJURY: Hamstring, shoulder

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 5 out of Melbourne's 28 matches.

Although Suliasi Vunivalu has barely missed a game since he made his NRL debut in 2016, the Fijian flyer has played through numerous injuries on the Storm's wing.

Dislocating his shoulder in March 2017 and then straining his hamstring last year, the 23-year-old has had slight nudges here and there in his short rugby league career.

However, Vunivalu has proved vital to the Storm's try-scoring lineup, taking 61 tries in just three seasons.

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS

PLAYER: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

INJURY: Knee

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 3 out of the Warriors' 26 matches.

As the 2018 Dally M award winners, the Warriors biggest injury fear has to be Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

The New Zealand skipper was forced from the field with a knee injury approaching the half-hour mark of their premliniary final against the Penrith Panthers.

The Warriors were only down by two at the time, but after their captain left the field limping, the Panthers took control to win 27-12.

Tuivasa-Sheck went on to have knee surgery in September and is expected to return to the field ahead of the upcoming season.

NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

PLAYER: Mitchell Pearce

INJURY: Pectoral

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 10 out of 25 Knights matches.

Newcastle were left devastated after their key recruit Mitchell Pearce ruptured his pectoral muscle during the Novocastrians' round seven victory over the Wests Tigers last year.

After a flying start to the 2018 season, where they won four of their first six games - the injury hampered the Knights for the rest of the season.

Now as captain, Pearce is central to the club's performance in 2019 despite the depth of this year's playing squad.

With the likes of Kalyn Ponga, David Klemmer and JJ Felise, a healthy Novocastrian squad could be well on their way to the finals.

NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS

Michael Morgan © Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited Michael Morgan PLAYER: Michael Morgan

INJURY: Groin, bicep

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 14 out of North Queensland's 25 matches.

Without Michael Morgan, the North Queensland Cowboys are cooked.

While they could afford to lose a forward or a centre and still be a side to be reckoned with, without their veteran there's no hope of the Cowboys making their finals comeback in 2019.

After sustaining a torn bicep in the Cowboy's round 15 loss to the Warriors last year, Morgan was ruled out of State of Origin and the remainder of the season. The North Queensland outfit only won four games without him on the field.

The veteran is expected to return in time for the club's first trial match against the Titans after a four-mouth injury layoff.

PARRAMATTA EELS

PLAYER: Clint Gutherson

INJURY: Knee (ACL)

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 6 out of the Eels' 25 matches.

After rupturing his ACL for the second time midway through 2017, Clint Gutherson was left devestated.

Watching his club play the semi-finals from the sideline must have been hard enough, but then an infuriating start to 2018 would have been even worse to witness.

The Eels will need a complete turnaround ahead of the upcoming season, and an in-form Gutherson alongside Roosters recruit Blake Ferguson could be do the trick.

PENRITH PANTHERS

a group of people sitting in front of a crowd: Nathan Cleary © Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited Nathan Cleary PLAYER: Nathan Cleary

INJURY: Knee

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 8 out of the Panthers' 27 matches.

After re-signing Nathan Cleary to a five-year contract at Penrith, the Panthers are sure to have high expectations for Ivan Cleary's son in 2019.

Regardless of the accolades that Cleary achieved during his third year of senior footy, his combination with veteran halfback James Maloney is arguably one of the best in the league.

The Panthers were struck a massive blow last season when the star halfback was sidelined for three months after he suffered a Grade 3 medial collateral ligament sprain to his left knee in March.

But with Sam McKendry and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak still recovering from their respective surgeries, Penrith cannot afford another injury blow to their star.

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

PLAYER: Greg Inglis

INJURY: Knee

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 9 of the Rabbitoh's 27 matches.

South Sydney skipper Greg Inglis fears that he could be robbed of the chance to play for new Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett due to his troublesome knee.

The captain is in doubt for the Rabbitohs' first regular season game of Bennett's Redfern reign after aggravating his reconstructed left knee during pre-season training.

Inglis tore his ACL in Round 1 of the 2017 NRL season and missed the remainder of the season.

Although he made a successful return in 2018, the 32-year-old announced that he will retire from playing NRL football at the end of the 2020 season and retire from representative football at the end of this year.

ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS

PLAYER: Gareth Widdop

INJURY: Shoulder

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 5 out of the Dragons 27 matches.

Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop suffered a dislocated shoulder twice within a month towards the end of the 2019 season.

The five-eighth dislocated his right shoulder early for the second time during St George-Illawarra's elimination final against Brisbane last year.

Despite having surgery early in the off-season, the chance of dislocating a shoulder increases with each incident.

Returning to England at the season's end, Widdop will be aiming to end his Dragons stint with success, after his side were nudged out of the preliminary final.

SYDNEY ROOSTERS

a group of people watching a football ball on a field: Cooper Cronk © Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited Cooper Cronk PLAYER: Cooper Cronk

INJURY: Shoulder

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: None.

In what is arguably the greatest hoodwinking of the rugby league public, not even a broken scapula can deter Cooper Cronk from taking the footy field.

In 2018, it was the Roosters' biggest fear that Cronk wouldn't be fit to take the field against the Storm in the grand final. Sustaining a suspected severe left rotator cuff injury during his side's 12-4 win over South Sydney, the veteran half was in serious doubt to leave the bench against his old side.

Coaching more than playing with the team during the grand final, the injured 35-year-old pulled-off one of the most memorable performances of all time.

Since having a successful surgery on his now-famous left wing, the club have confirmed that Cronk will be fit to start the 2019 NRL season.

But with another year left on his contract with Sydney, Cronk will once again be the club's biggest injury fear after an extraordinary 2018.

WESTS TIGERS

PLAYER: Josh Reynolds

INJURY: Shoulder

GAMES MISSED IN 2018: 20 out of the Tigers' 25 matches.

After signing a lucrative four-year contract with the West Tigers, Josh Reynolds managed to play just five games with the joint-venture club.

Straining his hamstring ahead of his Tigers debut, the former Bulldogs barely played a game before he was ruled out for the remainder of the 2018 season.

Capping off a horror run of injuries in his first year at the club, the divisive five-eighth underwent shoulder surgery to clean up ongoing issues with his right scapula.

With the Tigers roaring to make the finals for the first time since 2011, the club will need all-hands on deck to break their dry spell.

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