Pakistan-born former Afghani refugee Omar Slaimankhel will make his NRL debut against the Cronulla Sharks at Toyota Stadium tonight after New Zealand Warriors wing Manu Vatuvei was ruled out with a knee injury.
The Warriors under-20s star was promoted to the main game when it was decided not to risk Vatuvei aggravating the injury.
Vatuvei, who scored two tries in the 30-16 win at Penrith on Monday, missed training on Wednesday and although he did participate in yesterday's session head coach Brian McClennan decided to keep his match-winner on ice.
He has extra time to recover with the Warriors having a bye next weekend before hosting the North Queensland Cowboys on July 1.
Slaimankhel, who has scored 45 tries in 45 Toyota Cup appearances, is in the final year of his contract with the Warriors and has an opportunity to showcase his skills at the highest level.
A number of NRL clubs have reportedly expressed an interest in the exciting back with South Sydney understood to be the frontrunner.
Slaimankhel, who played rugby before joining the Warriors, has apparently also caught the eye of the Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby franchise.
Although undoubtedly an asset, the Warriors may struggle to retain Slaimankhel because his path to first grade is blocked by fullbacks Kevin Locke and Glen Fisiiahi.
Meanwhile, the Sharks are weakened by the withdrawal of inspirational leader Paul Gallen who aggravated a knee injury while captaining NSW to a State of Origin series-levelling win against Queensland on Wednesday night.
The industrious back rower will be replaced by Tyson Frizzell after Wade Graham dropped off the bench while the Sharks front row stocks were also depleted when Andrew Fifita was another late defection.
He was replaced by interchange prop Jon Green and 18th man Sam Tagataese was added to the bench.
Kiwis veteran Jeremy Smith retains the captaincy role he assumed when Gallen was absent on Origin duty.
- © Fairfax NZ News