NRL grand finalists Canterbury and South Sydney could be without their hookers Michael Ennis and Issac Luke for next weekend’s showdown at ANZ Stadium.
Luke’s fate is in the hands of the NRL judiciary after he was charged with a grade-one lifting tackle following his challenge on Sonny Bill Williams in Friday’s preliminary final win over the Sydney Roosters.
Ennis fractured his foot in the Bulldogs’ win over Penrith on Saturday and may have played his last game for the club with the former NSW hooker joining Cronulla next year.
Young playmaker Moses Mbye and reserve-grade hooker Damien Cook will both be considered to replace the 30-year-old Ennis, who also missed the 2006 grand final due to injury when playing for Brisbane.
NSW five-eighth Josh Reynolds could also be considered in the position he started his career in but said he desperately hoped his skipper would somehow find a way to get fit.
The Bulldogs’ Belmore headquarters is one of the best equipped in the NRL and Ennis will undergo intense physiotherapy this week to try to get him fit for the club’s second grand final in three years.
However, Reynolds said he desperately hoped Friday wouldn’t be the last time Ennis would be seen in a Bulldogs jersey.
“It would be heartbreaking if he didn’t get the nod but it would give us an incentive to send him out as the champion he is,” Reynolds said.
“He does so much for the game that people don’t realise. When a kid comes up to him he gives them his time. I hope the league gods can pay him back.”
Canterbury chief executive Raelene Castle admitted Ennis was at long odds to play, but said the club’s medical team would give him every opportunity to prove his fitness.
“It will be an uphill battle for (Ennis) to be fit for the grand final,” Castle said.
“But what I will say is that we and the medical team will be looking at every angle we can to make sure he’s there and no one will fight harder to be there than Mick.
“He has been our leader all year and he deserves this grand final.”
The loss of Luke would be a huge blow to Souths, with coach Michael Maguire stating previously that he is the team’s most important player.
The Rabbitohs publicly responded within an hour of the charge being issued by the NRL to vehemently state they would fight it on Tuesday night.
Maguire told Triple M he was confident justice would be served and the 27-year-old would line up against the Bulldogs.
“He’s disappointed being in the situation but he believes in the system and we’ve seen it work in the right way and we have to go through all the formalities now,” Maguire said.
“I’ve stated that I believe we’ll be fine and we have to move forward with this case.”
Williams said after the game he felt the incident didn’t warrant his former Kiwi teammate missing the biggest game of his career.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler said after his side’s preliminary final win over Penrith that he expected the incident to go before the three-man panel.
Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith sat out the grand final in 2008 after being found guilty at the judiciary and Sydney Roosters great Luke Ricketson suffered a similar fate before the 2004 decider against the Bulldogs.