Earl edges closer to NRL return

Scott Bailey
Tyrone May (left) returns for the Panthers for the first time this year against the Warriors

Sandor Earl is one step closer to an NRL return after being named on Melbourne's extended bench for Thursday night's clash with St George Illawarra.

Earl, who hasn't played first grade since he copped a four-year ASADA ban as part of the peptides scandal, was signed by the Storm late last year.

However he injured his knee early in the pre-season for Melbourne, and only returned through the Storm's Queensland Cup feeder-club Sunshine Coast last month.

The 28-year-old has been named in Melbourne's No.21 jersey with the likes of Josh Addo-Carr, Billy Slater and Will Chambers missing from their backline through State of Origin.

And while a return looks unlikely this weekend, it indicates Earl is moving closer to his first NRL game since he played for Canberra in August 2013 after coach Craig Bellamy praised him highly in the pre-season.

The Storm have named Young Tonumaipea at fullback in place of Slater before he goes on a Mormon mission, while Ryley Jacks is back in the halves and Brodie Croft on the bench to cover their six Origin players.

Elsewhere, Canberra have dropped playmaker Blake Austin back to the bench for their clash with Canterbury, with Sam Williams earning a return.

Penrith also have new-look halves for their clash with the Warriors, with both James Maloney and Nathan Cleary missing through Origin.

Tyrone May will play his first game back in the NRL since injuring his knee in last year's finals series.

Entrusted with the Panthers' No.6 jersey in Matt Moylan's absence late last year, May helped Penrith to five straight wins in his first five games before they were later knocked out in the second week of the finals.

That loss coincided with the 22-year-old tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and left him needing surgery.

"It's a credit to himself how he has got back from his rehab," Penrith veteran Trent Merrin said.

"He's all class. Just like you see a lot of young players coming through the grades. They're all class and don't lack any confidence. I'm sure he will slip in right away."

May's reserve grade halves partner Jarome Luai will wear the No.7, after he got limited time off the bench on debut against Newcastle in round 10.

Penrith have also named Waqa Blake to return and Viliame Kikau to play, although Kikau is no certainty to overcome a bone bruising on the top of his knee.

Meanwhile Darren Nicholls will become the oldest halves debutant of the NRL era when he plays his first game for St George Illawarra at age 29.

The Dragons are without Ben Hunt and four other Origin players.