In a huge shock, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has axed halfback prodigy Sam Walker, while backrower Angus Crichton is set to play his first NRL game since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Walker, 20, has been the Roosters’ starting playmaker this season but, after two consecutive losses, finds himself in reserve grade.
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The Roosters face St George Illawarra on Anzac Day and go into the game with a 3-3 season record.
Luke Keary has been shifted to halfback, with Joey Manu moving to five-eighth and Paul Momirovski coming into the team for his first game of the season.
“You get to go down to reserve grade and play with less pressure,” prop Matt Lodge said of Walker’s demotion.
“Nobody can be in form for 15 years of your career.”
Crichton, meanwhile, will play first grade for the first time since taking mental health leave earlier this season.
The forward lined up in NSW Cup last weekend, getting through 80 minutes at Henson Park in a heavy defeat to the Newtown Jets.
The Dragons have lost Jaydn Su’A to a shoulder injury for the clash — the latest piece of bad news for under-fire coach Anthony Griffin.
Meanwhile, Newcastle have confirmed Kalyn Ponga will stay at five-eighth in his NRL return against North Queensland, with the Knights star cleared to make his comeback from concussion.
Ponga was named in Newcastle’s team on Tuesday for the first time since round two, with the Knights deeming him ready to return to action in Townsville on Saturday.
In other NRL team news, the Wests Tigers will debut 21-year-old Jahream Bula at fullback against Manly, as part of an overhaul of their backline and halves after seven straight losses to start the season.
Bula’s inclusion pushes Charlie Staines to the wing while Asu Kepaoa switches to the centres, with Brent Naden out with a shoulder injury.
Brandon Wakeham will play five-eighth, with confirmation on Tuesday Adam Doueihi has been ruled out for 12 months after his third ACL rupture.
In contrast, the Sea Eagles have a big inclusion for Sunday’s clash, with Josh Schuster back at five-eighth after a quad injury and teenage prop Samuela Fainu to debut off the bench.
Penrith will be without Liam Martin against South Sydney on Thursday night, but the club hope the aggravation of his hamstring tear is a minor one.
Souths will be without second-rower Keaon Koloamatangi after his syndesmosis injury, with Michael Chee-Kam to start.
Parramatta have Josh Hodgson back from illness for their clash with Brisbane in Darwin, with the Broncos welcoming back Corey Oates (jaw) and Thomas Flegler (concussion).
Declan Casey will replace Jacob Kiraz on the wing for Canterbury against Cronulla, while Braidon Burns returns from an ankle injury on the other wing.
Felise Kaufusi is back from suspension for the Dolphins to replace the suspended Kenny Bromwich, while AJ Brimson (hamstring) is named on an extended bench for the Gold Coast.
Nick Meaney returns from his concussion to play fullback for Melbourne against a Warriors side which is without Wayde Egan for a second straight week after his head knock.
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