Cleary headlines NRL stars to make return

Scott Bailey |

Nathan Cleary’s NRL return has been confirmed with the Penrith playmaker the only halfback named in their squad for Friday night’s grand final rematch.

Always on track to return this week, the Panthers showed their hand on Tuesday by not including back-up half Sean O’Sullivan in their 24-man squad to face South Sydney.

His exclusion means Cleary is Penrith’s only option at No.7, with the NSW State of Origin halfback having not played since last October’s grand final win.

Cleary headlines a list of big-name returns across the NRL.

Newcastle will count on Kalyn Ponga overcoming a knee issue for Friday night’s blockbuster against Cronulla.

Ponga impressed in the Knights’ shock round-one win over the Sydney Roosters, but has been a late withdrawal against both Wests Tigers and Penrith.

Beaten when playing with 12 men against Penrith last week, the Knights face a massive challenge with the Sharks having shot out of the blocks.

Shaun Johnson is some chance to play for the Warriors against Brisbane after being named on an extended bench, with Ash Taylor still out with a hip injury.

Brisbane have their own injury issues, with Kurt Capewell in doubt with a hamstring problem after he was named on an extended bench.

Harry Grant is another to return for Melbourne after he had the start of his season disrupted by COVID-19, with the star hooker expected to recover in time to face Canterbury.

Xavier Coates is also back, while the Bulldogs will miss Jack Hetherington after his season-ruining shoulder surgery.

Canberra have more COVID-19 dramas.

Sebastian Kris has been ruled out for a second match in four week due to the virus.

He has been added to the isolation list after having to quarantine in round one.

It marks the seventh time a Raider has had to miss a trial or regular season match this year due to the virus, after Sam Williams, Matt Frawley, Jordan Rapana, Brad Schneider and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.

The Raiders at least welcome winger Nick Cotric back for his first game in Canberra colours since 2020 against Manly in Mudgee on Saturday.

Gold Coast’s mid-season signing of Jamayne Isaako has already paid dividends with the Titans’ facing a backline shortage for Thursday night’s NRL clash with Wests Tigers.

Isaako will play in place of fullback Jayden Campbell, with the Titans hopeful their young gun fullback misses just one game through rib cartilage damage.

Winger Phil Sami has also since tested positive to COVID-19, with Corey Thompson to return from a hand injury in his place.

The Tigers are also expecting to welcome back James Roberts, Ken Maumalo and Kelma Tuilagi for the clash.

St George Illawarra have lost winger Cody Ramsey to a hamstring issue for their date with Parramatta, where Eels backrower Ryan Matterson returns from a similar injury.