Josh Schuster's hopes of featuring in Manly's NRL season opener against South Sydney in Las Vegas hangs in the balance after after a series of brutal setbacks for the 22-year-old. Schuster has not trained with the Sea Eagles for the best part of eight weeks after being struck down by various injuries and illness in a horror pre-season that leaves him facing a battle to prove his fitness before the Sea Eagles fly out to America to take on the Rabbitohs in the first game of the new season.
Schuster's nightmare run of mishaps happened in December when he contracted chickenpox and couldn't train for two weeks before the club's break over Christmas. The former five-eighth, who is set to move into the back-row for Manly this season following the acquisition of Luke Brooks from the Tigers, then suffered a serious finger injury after returning for pre-season training in the new year.
In just his first session back with the Manly squad in 2024, Schuster suffered a spiral fracture in his finger that required surgery. The injury meant the 22-year-old had to have the bone in his finger fused in order to avoid a similar situation to Roosters back-rower Angus Crichton, who ultimately had to have one of his fingers amputated.
Compounding the problems for Schuster has been a calf strain that has limited his aerobic, strength and conditioning work and left him fighting an uphill battle to be in sufficient physical shape to start the season. Manly coach Anthony Seibold remains hopeful that Schuster will be fit enough to feature in a trial game against the Roosters on February 17 on the NSW Central Coast.
Josh Schuster is no certainty to be fit for Rd1 after contracting chicken pox, fracturing his finger (required fusion surgery) & suffering a calf strain over the past 2 months (via @MichaelChammas). Obviously a horrid run, compounded by Schuster’s extensive calf injury history
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) January 31, 2024
"He's a guy who needs to be on the paddock as much as possible.
"He hasn't trained properly since December and he came back in great shape. He's unlikely to go to Vegas." @MCarayannis on Josh Schuster's unlucky run with injury to start 2024 #NRL pic.twitter.com/DJ8JmcrwkX
— Vossy & Brandy SEN 1170AM Sydney (@VossyBrandySEN) January 31, 2024
Josh Schuster is racing the clock to make Manly’s trip to Vegas.
Schuster has suffered a spiral fracture of his finger which required surgery to fuse the bone. This has been compounded by a calf strain.
Manly will take a 24 man squad to Sin City.
— The League Scene (@LeagueScenePod) January 31, 2024
So unlucky. Poor guy needed a big season this year as well. Hope he can turn it around.
— Brad Boucher (@WePlayLeague) January 31, 2024
Manly's squad will then departure for the United States after the Rooters trial match to begin preparations for their season-opener against the Rabbitohs at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on March 3. That match is part of a blockbuster double-header that will also see Brisbane take on the Rooters in Las Vegas to kick off the new season with a bang.
Josh Schuster has endured a tumultuous time at Manly
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Schuster has already been ruled out of a behind-closed-doors practice match against Shane Flanagan's Dragons in Narrabeen on Friday. The 22-year-old's latest setback continues a tumultuous couple of years for the Manly junior, who was previously touted as Kieran Foran's successor at five-eighth for Manly.
Schuster's form, fitness and attitude has frequently been called into question and a number of poor performances saw him dropped to reserve grade in 2023. Despite his patchy form, the 22-year-old signed a four year contract extension at Manly last year worth a staggering $800,000 per season, before the Sea Eagles decided to recruit Brooks in a move that has pushed Schuster to the back-row.
The 22-year-old had been tipped to line up alongside Haumole Olakau'atu as a starting edge forward for the Sea Eagles in 2024, with his potential absence presenting an opportunity to a number of other squad members. Ethan Bullemor and Ben Trbojevic will be among those battling for a starting spot in the back-row, as well as Brad Parker, who is set for a positional shift after featuring in the centres throughout his Manly career.
Schuster had reportedly impressed Manly's coaching staff training in the back-row until his series of mishaps, but will be racing the clock to prove his fitness before the team departs for Las Vegas. The Sea Eagles are set to take a squad of 24 players with them to the United States and want everyone fit and firing ahead of the March 3 season opener.
Another Manly star who might also be missing on the plane trip to the States is winger Christian Tuipulotu, who has been given permission by the club to explore opportunities elsewhere. It comes amid reports former Manly assistant and new Dragons coach Flanagan is interesting in bringing the livewire winger to the Red V in 2024.
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