Roosters coach Brian Smith has confirmed reigning Dally M medallist Todd Carney is on track to play in his side’s season opener against South Sydney next month. Carney underwent groin surgery four weeks ago and was initially expected to miss the first four rounds of the competition. The 24-year-old will sit out Saturday’s Foundation Cup clash against Wests Tigers at the SFS but is considered an almost certain starter for Round 1 in a major boost for the Tri Colours. “Unless something goes wrong for him he’ll play in the first comp game,” Smith said on Tuesday. “We even thought about just playing him for 20 minutes in this game but he’s not quite at that stage … it’s just a little too early for him.” “We’ve still got 17 days before the comp starts and we start with Souths on Friday night so we’d obviously like him to be right for that.” “Without and mishaps between now then he’ll be fine I think.” Young-gun Mark Kheirallah will wear the No.6 jersey in Carney’s absence against the Tigers on Saturday night after impressing throughout the pre-season. Smith admits Kheirallah, who only played in the first trial against Ipswich due to an injury to Jono Wright, has ‘come from the clouds’ but says he deserves his chance to go head-to-head with Benji Marshall this weekend. “He’s had a bit of a whirlwind ride,” Smith said of the No.6. “He was down the bottom of our under-20s list really last year at the beginning of the season but he developed quite a lot during the course of last year scoring a lot of tries.” “He’s very fast, he played mainly wing and fullback in the NYC last year but we gave him the opportunity to do a bit of full-time training fitting around his work and he’s really taken to it.” “He’s played well in the two trials we’ve had so far so we’ll see how he goes this weekend.” “He’s just come from the clouds and grabbed hold of the opportunity and every day in training he’s going really well.” Skipper Braith Anasta, who has been named at lock in a near full-strength Roosters side, has been equally impressed by Kheirallah. “He’s come from full-back so he’s good with the ball in his hands, he’s got a good kicking game which is something he’ll work on now being in the halves,” Anasta said. “But his biggest asset’s his speed, he’s extremely quick. He’s the quickest in the club.” Meanwhile, Anasta talked down his chances of repeating his miraculous field goal in last year’s thrilling 19-15 qualifying-final win over the Tigers. “I wouldn’t back myself I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I practice my kicks but something like that you’ve got to get lucky. As soon as I hit it I knew it was over but if you put 10 balls down in that spot I reckon I’d be lucky to get one or two.” The Tigers have named former Bulldogs winger Matt Utai on the wing for Saturday’s clash, while utility Tim Moltzen will make his return from knee surgery off the bench. Gareth Ellis, Todd Payten and Beau Ryan are the only regular starters not available for the club’s final pre-season hit-out through injury.

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