Premiership heavyweights Manly are facing a crisis in the hooker position after scans revealed Matt Ballin has a fractured fibula and could miss the rest of the NRL season.
Ballin suffered the injury in the Sea Eagles’ last-gasp win over Penrith at Brookvale Oval on Sunday, playing a further 22 minutes unaware of the leg fracture before being replaced.
It creates a real problem for Manly who lost backup hooker Jamie Buhrer to a season-ending ruptured ACL in the same match.
The injury will end Ballin’s run of 182 consecutive matches for the ladder leaders but he was holding out some hope of returning if the Sea Eagles progress deep into the finals.
Ballin was disappointed to get the news after having secondary scans and said it appeared an innocuous injury at first when he was hurt in a tackle.
“I was just in a bit of pain and didn’t really know where I was from the tackle,” Ballin said.
“As I got moving, my leg was sore and I just thought it was a bit of a cork, which happens quite regularly, but it didn’t seem to get better.
“I tried to stay out there until halftime but then saw the doctor and they made the call to pull me off and not go back on in the second half which was disappointing but that’s what happens.
“In the end it was a really good call by them, putting my safety first.”
The Sea Eagles can secure the minor premiership with a win in their final round clash with North Queensland in Townsville on Saturday night.
While there are only five weeks left in the season, Ballin said he was hopeful of returning.
“It’s a bit disappointing coming at this time of the season but that’s the way rugby league goes and I’m sure the rest of the players who step in will do the job well,” he said.
“There are five weeks left, hopefully, for the Manly Sea Eagles in the competition and these things tend to take a bit of time.
“Hopefully the boys do a great job in the next game, then the semi-finals and then I can be back for some games towards the end of the year.”