THESE are the players their teams just can’t do without on the road to the play-offs. Billy Slater, Keith Galloway, Paul Gallen, Justin Hodges, Beau Scott, Glenn Stewart and Konrad Hurrell hold the key to the fortunes of their sides this season.
There are holes in a team that just can’t be filled - just ask Craig Bellamy or Shane Flanagan, who have struggled to lift their teams without Slater and Gallen in their respective sides during the past month. With Slater in the side, Melbourne have won 12 of their 14 matches, but only once in six games without the world’s best fullback have they celebrated victory.
The Sharks were in danger of tumbling out of the top eight without their skipper on board, but he returned from an abdominal strain on Sunday to inspire Cronulla to a resounding 45-4 win against the Warriors across the ditch.
Spare a thought for Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens, who is yet to walk away with two competition points while prop Galloway has been in the stands this year.
Advertisement The pre-season premiership favourites have lost all six games without their fiery enforcer, winning 71 per cent of matches with him in the side.
In fact, the start of the Tigers’ five-game losing streak early in the season coincided with Galloway’s foot injury, with the joint venture then going on a seven-game winning streak a week after his comeback.
Coming into the last round, Galloway had missed his side’s back-to-back defeats at the hands of North Queensland and South Sydney, but he returned from injury on Monday night to help his side snap a two-game losing streak against the Eels in Campbelltown.
‘‘We’ve missed his size and his power,’’ Sheens said, unaware his team were yet to register a victory without Galloway on the paddock.
‘‘He and young Woods have worked well as a pair. It was good to have him back, because a number of the good wins we’ve had have been when Keithy’s been churning out the metres. He’s obviously very important to us.’’
Broncos coach Anthony Griffin will be hoping Hodges has the same effect when he returns from a hamstring strain against the Bulldogs on Sunday. Brisbane have a poor record without their international centre, winning just one of seven games in his absence.
They have a 77 per cent success rate with him in the side (10/13), boosting their chances of ending their three-game losing run against Canterbury this weekend.
‘‘The good sides at this stage of the year are playing with virtually their best team,’’ Sheens said.
''It’s obviously important with a month to go, you’d like to have those people on the park. Cronulla have got their big men back, the Warriors had a lot of people out. Brisbane are struggling with a lot of people out.
‘‘Canterbury have got a near full strength side even though they have a couple of key players out. It’s about having your best side at this point of the season which can make the difference … That type of thing can make or break you.’’
The Warriors welcome back their good luck charm, rookie wrecking ball Hurrell, for Saturday night’s clash with the Cowboys. Brian McClennan’s men have won just one of their six games without Hurrell, who returns from a foot injury.
The Dragons have a similar poor record without Scott, still sidelined with a groin injury, also winning one of six games without the NSW back-rower.
Manly have a 50 per cent success rate without Glenn (5/10) and Brett Stewart (3/6).