Teenage winger Jason Saab is set to make a dramatic transition from SG Ball to first grade within a year after being named as one of four new faces in the St George Illawarra team for Friday night’s match against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium.
Saab, who represented NSW Under 18s and Australian schoolboys last year, will join Gareth Widdop, Ben Hunt and Zac Lomax as changes to the Dragons side beaten 40-14 by Penrith last Friday night.
Widdop, the St George Illawarra captain, returns from a shoulder reconstruction at five-eighth and will partner Hunt in the halves, with Corey Norman shifting to fullback in place of Matt Dufty as part of a new look back three for St George Illawarra.
Dufty has been selected on the bench, while Lomax and Saab replace wingers Mikaele Ravalawa and Jonus Pearson. Interchange forward Patrick Kaufusi also drops out of the 17-man squad but was named on an extended bench.
So highly regarded is 18-year-old Saab that he has already been signed by the Dragons until the end of the 2022 season after a stunning rise through the ranks from SG Ball to the club’s NRL development player squad in the past 12 months.
The 195cm tall winger was due to be promoted to St George Illawarra’s top 30 in 2021 but his NRL debut has now been fast-tracked as Dragons coach Paul McGregor seeks to revive the team’s flagging finals hopes alive.
St George Illawarra's opponents South Sydney have named the same 17 that downed North Queensland last weekend with Tom and Sam Burgess on their extended reserves list.
Tom got through training on Tuesday and shapes as the more likely inclusion for Friday's game, with Sam still recovering from an infection detected during recent shoulder surgery that is expected to keep him sidelined for another week.
While St George Illawarra's season goes on the line, fellow struggling heavyweights Cronulla will be without Matt Moylan for their clash with North Queensland due to ongoing hamstring issues.
NRL.com understands that club medical staff fear any further damage to Moylan's troubling hamstring would be significant, to the tune of another month or two on the sidelines.
As such the former NSW Origin star will be kept on ice, despite the Sharks being desperate to snap a five game losing streak.
Moylan will be joined on the sidelines by prop Andrew Fifita (suspension) as Josh Dugan reverts to fullback, while second-rower Wade Graham is another week away in his recovery from a hamstring tear.
No such fears exist for Brisbane's Matt Gillett, who returns from a groin injury against the Gold Coast, who will debut mid-season English recruit Kallum Watkins at centre.
Tyrone Peachey also returns from a pectoral injury via the bench.
Melbourne will have their full Origin contingent on deck against the Sea Eagles after Josh Addo-Carr, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch were all rested last week.
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has also swung the axe after Sunday's sub-par defence at Brookvale, with Shaun Lane (finger) out and Waqa Blake coming in for his first game since moving from Penrith at the expense of rookie winger Ethan Parry.
Blake Ferguson remains sidelined with a leg infection as opponents the Warriors welcome back Ken Maumalo from concussion and sweat the fitness of Kodi Nikorima (ankle), who failed to train on Tuesday.