Bulldogs, Titans below full-strength for opener

CANTERBURY and the Gold Coast have been dealt major injury blows on the eve of the NRL's opening round.

After declaring his club had "moved on" from losing star fullback Ben Barba, who will make his debut in the No.1 against his former club in Friday night's blockbuster, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler revealed his side had taken a heavy injury hit.

They have lost giant forward Sam Kasiano and ball-playing forward Greg Eastwood to foot injuries, as well as classy centre Krisnan Inu (jaw).

The news was equally bad for Titans coach John Cartwright, with outside back Jamie Dowling ruled out for the season with a ruptured ACL.

Cartwright, already forced to find a new centre combination after losing attacking giant Jamal Idris to Penrith, has settled on new recruits Brad Tighe (Penrith) and Maurice Blair (Melbourne) in the centres for game one against Cronulla on Monday night.

Hasler has tried not to put too much focus on nullifying Barba in the build-up to the clash at ANZ Stadium, but the club's former try-scoring whiz is sure to be on the minds of his ex-teammates.

"Wherever Barba plays he's going to be a danger. But they've got a State of Origin back row with Sam Thaiday and Matt Gillett, and (Kiwi international) Alex Glenn, and (Josh) Hoffman at fullback," he said.

Melbourne named Ben Hampton and Ben Roberts in the halves with coach Craig Bellamy opting to give Test No.7 Cooper Cronk another week to get over his off-season shoulder surgery.

Homecoming coach Ricky Stuart has gone for a new-look halves pairing with veteran Terry Campese to team with the highly regarded Jack Wighton against the Cowboys on Saturday night in a squad containing rookies Matt Allwood and Shannon Boyd.

South Sydney coach Michael Maguire will decide today if Dylan Walker (ankle) plays in tomorrow night's grudge match against defending premiers Sydney Roosters.

Lock John Sutton is on standby to shift back into the halves alongside Adam Reynolds, who is on target to make his first appearance since undergoing off-season knee surgery.


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