Manly have lost prop Brenton Lawrence once again but all eyes will be on their replacement hooker Jayden Hodges in their crunch NRL clash with the Cowboys.
Another pack reshuffle looms for Manly coach Geoff Toovey after prop Brenton Lawrence again succumbed to a knee complaint ahead of Saturday night’s crunch NRL clash with North Queensland in Townsville.
But all eyes, it seems, will be on Sea Eagles hooker Matt Ballin’s replacement, ex-Cowboy Jayden Hodges.
Toovey was tense enough after losing Ballin (broken leg) and Jamie Buhrer (knee) this week – and Glenn Stewart for the season last week – before a match that could seal Manly’s first minor premiership since 1997.
However, Toovey tried not to lose his cool after confirming Queensland Origin prospect Lawrence was not making the trip as his team flew out to Townsville on Friday.
“He was close but he is just not right,” said Toovey of Lawrence who also missed their last round win over Penrith.
As a result Tyson Andrews joined the Sea Eagles squad.
Yet the focus was still on Ballin’s replacement and no wonder.
Queensland star Justin Hodges’ cousin has been thrust into the clash after Ballin’s injury on Sunday ended his remarkable run of 182 straight games for Manly stretching back to 2008.
Adding extra spice, Hodges not only used to play for North Queensland, he was their National Youth Championship player of the year in 2013 before making his first grade debut for them in round 25 last year.
“I’m sure he’s going to be really keen to come up here and play against his old club and do a really good job for them,” Cowboys centre and mate Kane Linnett said.
“He’s really quick out of dummy half and is still really young and I think he’s going to get out of dummy half and cause us some problems in the middle.”
Toovey admitted Manly would feel strange running out without Ballin.
“Matt Ballin played 182 games straight so that’s an unusual position for us,” he said.
That was music to the ears of a Cowboys outfit hoping to stitch up a top-four finish with a club record 10th straight home win.
Manly may have won their last six games against the Cowboys but they have not travelled well this year, racking up a 5-6 record outside their beloved Brookvale Oval.
The Cowboys will officially farewell Brent Tate on Saturday night after the former Test and Queensland winger finally succumbed to a knee injury and drew the curtain on his 14-season career this week.