Billy Slater’s tireless recovery efforts could pay off with the Kangaroos fullback looking increasingly likely to return from injury in the Rugby League World Cup final.
Slater admits he thought his tournament was over after suffering a recurrence of a left knee injury in last week’s quarter-final victory over the United States.
The Melbourne Storm star sat out Saturday’s 64-0 semi-final win over Fiji but his recovery has exceeded expectations and Kangaroos medical staff now consider it more likely than not he will be fit for next Saturday’s showdown with New Zealand at Old Trafford.
Slater stresses he won’t put his hand up to play unless he is 100 per cent fit but the 30-year-old is desperate to be part of the side that will look to avenge a loss to the Kiwis in the 2008 final.
“The way it’s improved over the last seven days has caught me by surprise to be honest,” Slater said on Saturday.
“At the start of the week I was giving myself no chance, whereas now I’ve done everything possible to get right for the next game and I’ll do everything I can in the next seven days to be right.
“… I’m going to give myself the best opportunity to get there but I’m not going to play if I don’t think I can play properly.
“It’s a big occasion and I’d love to be part of it but I know how important it is to this team and to our country. I’ll be fit if I get there.”
Kangaroos’ physiotherapist Tony Ayoub said the fact Slater was any chance at all of playing was a testament to the player’s dedication.
Since suffering the injury, Slater has received up to three treatment sessions and day and stuck to a strict regime of icing his knee up to eight times a day, mostly in his hotel room.
Slater surprised Ayoub by completing a treadmill running drill at 15kph on Friday, but crucial to his hopes of playing will be when he tests his knee during intense training on Tuesday.
“I (initially) gave him a 50-50 chance (of being fit) but it’s far better than that now,” Ayoub said.
“You’ve got to give the kid credit, he works hard. He’s certainly a professional.”
While Kangaroos players have played down talk of redemption or revenge, Slater would be desperate to get a chance to avenge the 2008 loss in Brisbane, where his infamous wayward pass helped the Kiwis score a shock victory.
He is also one of a host of senior Australian players who are facing what is likely their last chance to add a World Cup title to their CVs.
Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens will give Slater until the end of the week to prove his fitness and, should he do so, Greg Inglis would shift back into the centres.
That would likely mean Brent Tate making way from the starting side but it’s believed Sheens is considering using the North Queensland veteran off the interchange bench.