Billy Slater has been included in Australia’s 19-man squad to face New Zealand after clearing the first hurdle in his quest to be fit for Saturday’s Rugby League World Cup final.
The 30-year-old fullback returned to full training on Wednesday for the first time since injuring his left knee in Australia’s quarter-final win over the United States a fortnight ago.
After pulling up well from the intense session, which featured plenty of heavy contact with his teammates, Slater was on Thursday included in Australia’s extended match squad with a final decision on his fitness to be made on game day.
Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens pulled few surprises in the naming of his squad for the encounter at Old Trafford, with Robbie Farah, Michael Jennings, Josh Morris and Boyd Cordner all left out after having little involvement in recent games.
Sheens will wait until Saturday to finalise his 17-man team but he is expected to keep faith with the players who did the job in style in recent games.
Should Slater be fit to return, Greg Inglis will shift from fullback back into the centres.
That will force Brent Tate out of the starting side but the coach is weighing up whether to use the North Queensland veteran off the bench, possibly at the expense of young forward Josh Papalii.
Daly Cherry-Evans, Andrew Fifita and Corey Parker look certain to retains their bench spots, unless veteran Nate Myles can force his way into the side.
Melbourne Storm star Slater will train again on Friday and it appears highly likely he will complete a remarkable return from injury.
Slater is one of a handful of Kangaroos out to make amends for the shock loss to New Zealand in the 2008 final.
Australian 19-man squad: Cameron Smith (capt), Greg Bird, Darius Boyd, Daly Cherry-Evans, Cooper Cronk, Andrew Fifita, Jarryd Hayne, Paul Gallen, Greg Inglis, Brett Morris, Nate Myles, Josh Papalii, Corey Parker, Matthew Scott, Billy Slater, James Tamou, Brent Tate, Sam Thaiday, Johnathan Thurston.