After a long hard road, former representative flanker Wendell Sailor gets his shot on the big stage after being picked by Nathan Brown to start for the St George Illawarra Dragons against his former side the Brisbane Broncos.
The rumour mill was in overdrive for Friday night’s blockbuster against his old club many suggesting this would be the ideal time for big Dell to get the call-up and coach Nathan Brown didn’t disappoint, calling he 33-year-old Sailor late on Monday night to chat about his possible inclusion.
Sailor said even when he woke yesterday morning he wasn’t sure he would be chosen to play his first top-level game since a two-year ban for cocaine use and his first NRL game since 2001.
But his declaration was enough for Brown to name him on the wing for the Broncos clash at WIN Stadium.
“He rang me last night and said he was having a think whether to start me or maybe play me off the bench,” Sailor said at training in Wollongong yesterday.
“He asked me if I could do the job and I said, ‘I can do the job’. I left it up to him and he said he was going to have a sleep on it and he obviously had a good sleep. I just found out here this morning.”
Brown’s decision marks the final step in Sailor’s amazing return to professional sport, having just played three games with the Shellharbour Marlins, St George Illawarra’s feeder club in the Jim Beam Cup.
“It’s going to be a great chance for me to redeem myself,” Sailor said. “To show people that wrote me off a few years back. And also to the Dragons, Brownie and the players to back my ability and accept me as a person, too.”
Sailor admitted his former side, with whom he won four premierships before he joined rugby union, would target him.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to target me a little bit out on the right fringe,” Sailor said. “You’d be silly not to try come down my side a little bit but I’m looking forward to it.”
In other team news, former Kangaroos and NSW fullback Anthony Minichiello makes his long-awaited comeback from a back injury and has been named in the Roosters side to play Manly on Sunday.
Minichiello has been sidelined for the eight weeks and comes in for Amos Roberts, who injured his ankle in the 19-10 win over Wests Tigers on Monday night.
“It’s feeling good,” he said. “It’s progressing from week to week, so I’ll be able to jump in with the boys later in the week and do a few of the sessions and see how I pull up afterwards.”
Parramatta winger Eric Grothe is at the crossroads of his career after being dumped for Saturday night’s match against Canberra at Parramatta Stadium. Grothe allowed Broncos flyer Denan Kemp to score tries on his wing – including the match-winner after the siren – last Friday night.
He will be replaced by 19-year-old under-20s winger Tony Williams, who makes his NRL debut despite getting offside with Eels officials by signing with Manly last week.
“There are parts of Eric’s game that we have asked him to work on and we feel we haven’t seen the necessary improvement from him,” Parramatta coach Michael Hagan said.
The futures of South Sydney veterans Dean Widders, Shannon Hegarty and Nigel Vagana are similarly shrouded in doubt, with coach Jason Taylor axing them for the match against the Warriors in Auckland on Friday. Emerging centre Jamie Simpson and halfback Chris Sandow will make their debuts.