Intrust Super Shute Shield: Depth could be key as injuries halt contenders finals hopes

Eighteen long rounds of rugby have taken a toll on a number of teams ahead of the opening weekend of the 2017 Shute Shield finals series.

Several sides have injury concerns in key positions already and depth could be the key in this year’s premiership race.

Manly wrapped up the minor premiership in round 17 and coach Billy Melrose was able to rest a number of players in recent weeks, however inspirational captain Kotoni Ale is understood to be in a race against the clock to return and play a part in this year’s finals campaign.

Southern Districts have won nine straight matches but it may have come at a cost. After losing former Brumbies halfback Dewet Roos for up to nine months with an ACL injury in round 17, reserve halfback Eli Pilz was injured in the final play of Saturday’s tight win over Randwick and is awaiting the results of scans to see if he’ll return this year.

Matt Barr could choose to shift inform flyhalf Rohan Saifoloi to No.9, where he started the season, or call upon Sam Harris to fill the void at the base of the scrum. Harris has spent time between second and third grade so far this year.

Warringah flyhalf Hamish Angus is an uncertain starter for this weekend’s clash against Randwick after missing Saturday’s match against Norths. Fortunately, the Rats had 34-year old former London Irish flyhalf Myles Dorrian waiting in the wings. Angus and centre Tyson Davis are both reportedly a 50/50 chance of playing this weekend.

Randwick are also hurting from Saturday’s physical clash against Souths at Coogee Oval. Centre Dave Horwitz (eye socket) and No.8 Sam Croke (jaw) both seem unlikely to return this year.

At North Sydney Oval, Waratahs Irae Simone and Bryce Hegarty are not expected to feature in Norths title defence. Gun lock Nick Palmer is already in New Zealand preparing for an NPC season, however Michael Wells is expected to return this weekend.

Eastwood held onto sixth spot with a big win in round 18 but face a tough trip to Manly on Saturday with their season on the line. The Woodies have struggled since losing flyhalf Jai Ayoub earlier this year, but head into the finals in good shape on the injury front.

Manly (1) and Warringah (3) host Eastwood (6) and Randwick (4) respectively on Saturday, while Norths (5) travel to Forshaw to play Souths (2) on Sunday. The two lowest ranked losers this weekend are eliminated.