Two teams have reportedly pulled out of the NRLW this season, leaving the future of the fledgling competition in doubt.
New recruit Kyle Flanagan will make his Sydney Roosters debut against St Helens in the World Club Challenge clash early on Sunday.
The 21-year-old playmaker, who joined the NRL premiers from Cronulla at the end of last season, will line up alongside five-eighth Luke Keary in the halves for the match which kicks off at 6.30am Sunday morning (AEDT).
Skipper Boyd Cordner will sit out the game with coach Trent Robinson keen to keep the talismanic NSW and Australia back-rower as fresh as possible for his side’s NRL Round 1 encounter against Penrith on March 14.
“Boyd probably has the greatest workload in the NRL when it comes to not only captaining the club with Jake Friend but captaining New South Wales and Australia,” Robinson said.
“He’s played lots of games and plays a physical style of footy and to prepare him for this season, for New South Wales and then the (Kangaroos) tour at the end of the year, he needs to have some pre-season time.
“He came back in January and we needed to honour him and his body and get him right to be able to do what he does on the field.
“It was really tough to ask him not to play this game but it’s the best thing for him short, medium and long term.”
The NRL premiers will be led by Friend. Cordner’s place in the second row will be filled by Sitili Tupouniua with NSW representative Angus Crichton plugging the gap at centre left by Latrell Mitchell’s departure to South Sydney.
St Helens were impressive winners of the Super League last year, running in over 150 tries and boasting the best defensive record in the competition under new Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook.
Holbrook has been replaced by former Newcastle caretaker coach Kristian Woolf, who is without the services of former North Queensland and Penrith fullback Lachlan Coote due to a knee injury.
However, the home side are boosted by the return of outstanding hooker James Roby and possibly England centre Mark Percival, who had initially been ruled out of action for several months due to a shoulder problem.
But Percival’s surgery has been put back until next week and Saints coach Kristian Woolf said playing this weekend would not make the injury any worse.
“He’s a chance of playing,” Woolf said.
“It’s obviously been in the media that he needs surgery and that happens next week.
“We put him through a little bit of contact today to see how he holds up and he held up quite well. We’re just going to see how he pulls up tomorrow and go from there.
“We wouldn’t put him out there if we thought we were putting his health at risk.
“He already needs some work done there and it’s more a matter of whether he can play with a bit of pain and get through the game.”
Roosters squad: James Tedesco, Daniel Tupou, Angus Crichton, Joseph Manu, Brett Morris, Luke Keary, Kyle Flanagan, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Siosiua Taukeiaho, Sitili Tupouniua, Mitchell Aubusson,Victor Radley. Interchange: Sam Verrills, Isaac Liu, Nat Butcher, Lindsay Collins, Matt Ikuvalu, Poasa Faamausili, Asu Kepaoa, Lachlan Lam. (four to be omitted).