THE injury that will keep talismanic winger Manu Vatuvei out of Sunday's penultimate regular season NRL match against the St George Illawarra Dragons in Wollongong isn't as bad as first feared.
The 112kg finisher has again damaged the right forearm he broke in last October's test match against England in Wellington. Scans have shown that the pin inserted to help heal that break is still in place and the arm is structurally sound.
A collision in the 10th minute of Saturday night's victory over Penrith left Vatuvei with extensive, painful bruising and he has had a significant loss of strength.
The injury is likely to keep him out until the first week of the finals, but he may feature in the final regular season match against the Cowboys if it is considered a must-win.
"The pin is in place but [the arm] is very sore," club doctor John Mayhew said. "The problem at the moment is that his grip strength is down so even if he was to play with the pain he wouldn't be functionally okay."
That assessment goes some way to explaining Vatuvei's handling issues against the Panthers.
Despite a knee injury limiting him to 15 appearances, the hulking winger is the club's leading try-scorer this season with 10. In recent times, he has also been dogged by hamstring troubles, while his arm regularly causes him discomfort and he plays with a protective guard.
Vatuvei's latest injury was worrisome enough for Mayhew to seek a second opinion from prominent orthopaedic surgeon Stu Walsh. "If it was the last game of the year perhaps he would try to play," Mayhew said.
"But I think we have to be prudent at this time of the year. We've made the top eight, he's got an injury which should settle down with a week or two off. We're playing it that way."
Vatuvei's unavailability has led to a recall for Krisnan Inu on the left wing.
Inu impressed on the wing over a 13-game span after Vatuvei was injured in the opening match of the season, but fell out of favour after being switched to centre for the 30-10 drubbing by the Cowboys in Townsville in round 15.
Bill Tupou's strong form has seen him nail down the right wing, leaving Inu - a much-touted off-season recruit from Parramatta - out in the cold.
The rest of the side to face the Dragons is unchanged, with Lewis Brown included on a five-man bench.
With centre Mark Gasnier slated to return from a hip flexor injury and winger Brett Morris back after missing Friday's defeat by the Storm to attend the birth of his child, the Dragons are expected to be at full strength.
DRAGONS v WARRIORS
Ben Hornby (c)
Dragons interchange: Adam Cuthbertson, Trent Merrin, Jon Green, Kyle Stanley.
S. Mannering (c)
Warriors interchange: Lance Hohaia, Sam Rapira, Ben Matulino, Elijah Taylor, Lewis Brown.
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