While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Champion pivot Darren Lockyer believes a different judicial process should be used for "big games" like the finals in a timely show of support for anxious Cowboys skipper Johnathan Thurston.
But a brutally honest Lockyer does not expect Thurston to escape suspension when he fronts the NRL judiciary tonight for a grade one dangerous throw.
The incumbent Australian skipper hopes that "common sense" will prevail and Thurston runs out against Manly in Saturday's preliminary final in Sydney. The injured Broncos captain predicts an "uproar" north of the Tweed if Thurston is found guilty, ensuring he misses a chance to help his side qualify for their second grand final in three years.
Lockyer says except for incidents of deliberate foul play, players should have a downgrade option available for finals, Origins and Test matches.
Meanwhile, Test hopeful Brett Stewart knows more than just a grand final berth is at stake when he lines up opposite Matt Bowen in Manly's NRL preliminary final against the Cowboys on Saturday.
There's also the vacant Australian fullback jersey.
Stewart and Bowen are the two leading fullback contenders for next month's end-of-season Test in New Zealand with incumbent Karmichael Hunt sidelined due to a hamstring injury.
Parramatta's Jarryd Hayne and Melbourne's Billy Slater and Greg Inglis are also in the running but Stewart and Bowen get the perfect chance to press their claims when they face off at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Stewart says he believes selectors will be watching the pair and he wants to put in a big performance against the Dally M fullback of the year.
But Manly have suffered a scare ahead of Saturday's match with veteran backrower Steve Menzies struck down by a virus.
The 33-year-old is in doubt for the sudden-death preliminary final at the Sydney Football Stadium after missing training yesterday. Manly coach Des Hasler has named Menzies on a seven-man bench and also named backrower Glenn Stewart and winger Chris Hicks, who are also in doubt for the match with ankle injuries.
Hasler is confident Menzies will recover in time for the match while rating Stewart and Hicks as better than a 50 per cent chance to play. Premiership favourites Melbourne will welcome back five-eighth Greg Inglis and front rower Ben Cross for Sunday's preliminary final against Parramatta, with both overcoming injuries.