Brisbane Broncos teenager Payne Haas is in the frame to make his much-awaited NRL debut on Thursday night against the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The 18-year-old giant prop trained strongly for Brisbane in the club's final field session on Wednesday and will fly to Sydney with the first grade squad ahead of the round eight Telstra Premiership clash at ANZ Stadium.
Prop Matt Lodge is battling a rib cartilage injury and also trained with the Brisbane squad but coach Wayne Bennett said he was "a 50-50" chance of playing.
"We've got Sam Tagataese there as well. One of them will be 18th man and one will play," Bennett said when asked whether Haas would make his debut against the Rabbitohs.
Bennett has been wary of blooding Haas too early and said he was "close" to getting his chance after fine tuning his trade in the Intrust Super Cup.
"He's had seven or eight weeks at state league level and he is a different boy to when he started there," Bennett said.
"It is a good competition and it is where all our players are coming through now. Tevita [Pangai jnr] came through there and Joe Ofahengaue."
Rabbitohs v Broncos - Round 8
Tagataese has been named on the Broncos bench in the number 14 jersey and at number eight in the Norths Devils side to play Easts Tigers in the Intrust Super Cup.
Haas is listed on Brisbane's extended bench but has not been named for Wynnum-Manly in their showdown with the CQ Capras.
Even if Lodge is fit to play Bennett may elect to elevate Haas onto the bench in place of Tagataese.
Haas trained with the main squad for longer than Tagataese on Thursday.
- Late Mail & Casualty Ward: Vunivalu out, Lodge in doubt
- Rabbitohs v Broncos preview
- Round 8 NRL team lists
"Payne needs to work with them more than Sam does because Sam has been with them all season and Payne hasn't been working with them as much," Bennett said.
Bennett will play Josh McGuire at hooker and Bennett said he was keen to do the job in place of the injured Andrew McCullough.
"The boys understand that he won't be perfect there for them but he will do his absolute best," Bennett said.
As for what McGuire would bring to the role, Bennett joked that "it won't be footwork and won't be a lot of brain sometimes either".
"The rest will be good. He's got a good pass and listens to the boys and knows who to give the ball to," Bennett said.
"He has played [hooker] for Samoa and he was good the other night and if he doesn't take himself too seriously he will do a good job for us tomorrow night.
"Defensively he will be great for us in the middle as well. We lose a lot of things with Macca not playing. He's a 50-tackle a game man so I can't put someone in there who will only do only 20 or 25."
Kodi Nikorima will also get some game time at hooker when he comes off the bench.
Anthony Milford will go back to wearing the number six jersey and Jack Bird will wear the seven but their roles won't change in the team.
There remains a degree of mystery around why that switch has exactly happened.
"It was just a bit of gamesmanship by the coach I suppose... Milly is our five-eighth and that is his position here. Numbers don't mean a lot," Bennett said.
Bennett said the Rabbitohs would provide a stern test for a Broncos side he said wasn't too far off the pace.
"We had our moments against Melbourne but overall we still played a pretty high standard of football," he said.
"We've just got to hang in there at the moment."