The Canberra Raiders will welcome back the experience and “mongrel” of prop Junior Paulo in a highly anticipated finals rematch with the Cronulla Sharks.
Paulo will return from a one-game suspension while a fractured finger has seen Joe Tapine drop of out Canberra’s 21-man squad to host Cronulla on Saturday.
Back-rower Scott Sorensen is in line to make his club debut after being promoted to the top 17 of coach Ricky Stuart’s squad.
It will be a strange sense of deja vu for new Raiders recruit Sorensen, who played three NRL games with the Sharks in 2014 and made his debut against Canberra.
Sorensen takes the place of Tapine, who is facing four to five weeks on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on a fractured finger.
If the nephew of Sharks great Kurt Sorensen suits up at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night, he won’t be the only player with ties to both clubs.
Two weeks ago Edrick Lee reported to Raiders headquarters for training, and now the Sharks’ new recruit will play against them.
Lee’s Sharks come up against a Raiders side that has been ravaged by injury and suspension in the opening rounds.
Paulo makes his return to the front-row in the absence of suspended Clay Priest, while Jack Wighton will take his place at fullback after missing round one with a stomach bug.
Jordan Turner has been named in the NRL squad for the first time in jumper No. 18, and five-eighth Blake Austin says the changes will only make Canberra stronger because it allows more players to get a taste of the NRL.
“Injuries are going to happen, and you never know when they’re going to pop up,” Austin said.
“It’s something that’s a part of our game and whoever deals with it the best normally sits close to the top of the table.
“The more players that we can have ready for NRL, the better we’re going to be at the back end of the year.
“Throw big Junior Paulo in there, hopefully he’s going to make an immediate mark as well.”
Raiders back-rower Josh Papalii says Tapine will be “a big loss” and says the input of Paulo will be a big lift for an ever-changing line-up.
“Everyone knows how Junior plays the game, he plays it tough and we’re going to need that this weekend with the Sharks,” Papalii said.
1. Jack Wighton, 2. Nick Cotric, 3. Elliott Whitehead, 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Blake Austin, 7. Aidan Sezer, 8. Junior Paulo, 9. Josh Hodgson (C), 10. Shannon Boyd, 11. Josh Papalii, 12. Sia Soliola, 13. Luke Bateman. Interchange: 14. Adam Clydsdale, 15. Dunamis Lui, 16. Jeff Lima, 17. Scott Sorensen, 18. Jordan Turner, 19. Zac Santo, 20. Makahesi Makatoa, 21. Lachlan Croker.
NRL, round 2: Canberra Raiders vs Cronulla Sharks at GIO Stadium, 7.30pm, Saturday March 11. Tickets through Ticketek. TV Time: Live on Fox Sports.