David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Warriors may have surprise up the sleeve

Issac Luke racing clock to play in Sunday’s defining game against the Wests Tigers.

Warriors hooker Issac Luke may make a shock early return from injury in Sunday's crucial National Rugby League clash against Wests Tigers as both sides fight to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Luke has missed the Warriors' last three games following arthroscopic surgery earlier this month after injuring his right knee in the late stages of the Warriors' round 21 win over Penrith.

The 29-year-old international had a short recovery and resumed light running last week but was not expected to play until next week's final round game against Parramatta.

Rookie hooker Nathaniel Roache was on Tuesday named to start in the nine jersey for the second week in a row but sources revealed Luke will be given every chance to run out on to Mt Smart Stadium, pending medical clearances in the next 24 hours.

With the Warriors sitting precariously in ninth position on the NRL ladder and their finals hopes hanging by a thread, the former South Sydney premiership winner's presence would be a tremendous boost to the side, coming off back-to-back losses to the Rabbitohs and Cowboys.

Luke was at the forefront of the Warriors' mid-season revival - a nine-week run that saw them achieve six wins and three golden-point losses - but the side has missed his creativity and running game over the past fortnight.

In his absence, coach Andrew McFadden employed both Jazz Tevaga and fellow 20-year-old Roache to share the dummy half duties, with the former starting and the latter coming off the bench in both the round 22 win over Gold Coast and the following week's loss to the Rabbitohs.

That experiment was ditched last week ahead of the trip to Townsville but the Warriors were caught out when a hamstring injury to Ken Maumalo forced significant changes. Roache was pushed out wide for a stint, while five-eighth Thomas Leuluai jumped into the hooking role.

Leuluai was kept busy defensively in his time in the middle and was one of the Warriors' best as he got through 34 tackles, but the versatile 31-year-old said Luke's return to the side could not come soon enough.

"No disrespect to the guys that have come in for him but he's a class player and you notice the difference," said Leuluai.

"The young boys have done a great job and will continue to get better but a guy of Issac's calibre is invaluable. You want him playing."

Meanwhile, McFadden admitted he would be watching tomorrow night's crucial match between Gold Coast and Penrith, with the playoff hopes of both the ninth-ranked Warriors and 10th-placed Wests Tigers hanging on the Titans dropping their last two regular-season games.

"I dare say I'll be looking at the scoreline there," he said. "Obviously it's an important game, that if the Panthers win, we still have a chance.

"We have to look forward, that's the bottom line.

"The Titans have some tough games and, if we win our next two, we put ourselves in the right position so that's all we're focused on."

Leuluai said the players would all be tuning in to watch the game but said family commitments would prevent him from hosting any of his team-mates at his house.

"I'll be at home bathing the baby, bro. I don't think any of the boys will want to come around and watch me do that."

- NZ Herald

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