Parramatta Eels coach Brad Arthur has been left with a selection dilemma on his hands after winger Haze Dunster suffered a potentially serious knee injury in the 22-26 NRL trial loss to the St George Illawarra Dragons on Sunday.
Dunster looked a strong chance to start on the wing this year, especially with crowd favourite Maika Sivo injured until mid-season.
Dunster will go in for scans after a Tyrell Fuimaono hip drop tackle left him writhing on the turf in pain. The Eels have already confirmed he has suffered ligament damage to his knee.
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New recruit Bailey Simonsson looks certain to start on one wing for Parramatta but there’ll now be another vacancy for Arthur to fill.
Matthew Komolafe, Sean Russell and Solomone Naiduki — who have two games of first grade experience between them — all spent time on the wings against the Dragons and all showed flashes of promise.
Komolafe broke down the right side and helped Parramatta back onto the attack in the second half and it was Russell who set the crucial line-break up.
Naiduki cashed in on the momentum and had Parramatta’s fourth try just minutes later and would’ve had another had he grounded the ball properly.
For his tackle on Dunster, Fuimaono could also find himself unavailable for selection in round one.
The fiery Dragon has prior loading — he became the unwitting poster boy for the NRL’s crackdown on illegal contact with his hit on Ryan Papenhuyzen in Magic Round last year.
Ryan Matterson and Tautau Moga were also sin-binned so could come under scrutiny from the match review committee as well.
The Dragons weren’t without their injury problems either — centre Max Feagai needed assistance leaving the field after an awkward tackle but was already at long odds to start in the 17 for round one.
Plenty of regular first-graders missed Sunday’s outing.
For the Eels, Clint Gutherson, Mitch Moses, Junior Paulo, Dylan Brown, Nathan Brown and Reagan Campbell-Gillard all rode the pine.
Ben Hunt, Jack Bird, Jack de Belin, Mikaele Ravalawa and Zac Lomax were among the Dragons watching from the sidelines.
BURGESS KEPT QUIET
Playing for the first time since major hip surgery and for the first time in an NRL fixture since 2019, Dragons recruit George Burgess had a modest outing off the bench.
The former Rabbitoh came on midway through the first half and was back on the bench within 10 minutes of the restart, with 55 run metres, 26 post contact metres, seven runs and five tackles to his name.
Competition for spots in the Dragons pack will be fierce — along with Burgess, the club has replenished its forward stocks with the likes of Francis Molo, Jaydn Su’A, Aaron Woods and Jack Gosiewski, all of whom will rate themselves chances to lock down regular spots in the 17.
SHOW ME THE MAHONEY
The only member of the Eels’ first-choice spine to feature on Sunday, Reed Mahoney, reiterated just how important he will be to Parramatta’s premiership push in his first game back from the injury that cut his 2021 cruelly short.
Mahoney headlines the list of pending departures from Parramatta that have led critics to speculate 2022 is the last season the Eels can taste premiership glory before a roster overhaul.
The club has rejected such claims but either way, there is no denying the Eels will need Mahoney at his best if 2022 is the year to break the highly-publicised premiership drought.
With him on the park, the Eels enjoyed early dominance over the Dragons, who completed just five sets by the 25th minute mark and were staring down a 16-0 deficit.
After Mahoney went off and new recruit Mitch Rein took on hooking duties, the joint venture managed to pull back the momentum and draw level at the break.
Mahoney was rested for the remainder of the contest, which was never again as one-sided.
SHAUN THE SKIP
He’s no danger of usurping Clint Gutherson and Junior Paulo as skipper but the captaincy sure looked good on Shaun Lane.
Inside the opening three minutes of his first game captaining the club, Lane burst through a hole on Parramatta’s left edge.
On the next play, as the Dragons scrambled back, he sent a quick pass to set up former Warrior Hayze Perham — filling in for Gutherson at fullback — for the first try.
When Fuimaono was binned for his hip drop, the Eels went back to exploit the same side of the field and it was once again Lane who sent the winning pass over for a try.
Gutherson and Paulo have both been called away on State Of Origin duty in the past so Lane may have another chance to take the reins later in the season.