The pain in Billy Slater’s shoulder may have eased but the thought of letting down his Kangaroos teammates has proven too much to bear.
Slater surprised his Australian colleagues when he completed Tuesday’s training session in Brisbane, only to promptly tell staff he was pulling out of Friday night’s trans-Tasman Test.
Slater said it was frustrating to not play this year’s sole Test, especially after also missing the 2014 Four Nations with another shoulder complaint.
The Melbourne Storm veteran admitted at one stage he even thought he could take a chance and run out against heavyweights New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium.
Then he came to his senses.
“I was very close,” said the 31-year-old veteran of 25 Tests.
“Three quarters through the session I was playing.
“But by the end I made the decision that I didn’t want to go out there and let the side down.
“There is still a bit of pain there, it’s a lot better than last week but it’s not quite up there for playing a Test match.”
Slater looked comfortable under countless high balls in one-on-one drills with Daly Cherry-Evans before training impressively with the rest of the squad.
So most on-lookers were taken aback – including teammates – when the official word arrived that Slater was not playing after the 90-minute session.
“Billy Slater is out?” a surprised Kangaroos forward Corey Parker asked reporters as he walked off the Brisbane training paddock.
But Slater begrudgingly admitted he had not done enough to prepare for a physical Kiwi pack on Friday night.
“I got through a fair bit of contact stuff and felt vulnerable at times,” said Slater, who has missed Melbourne’s last three games.
“I knew I would be in those positions in the game and I didn’t want to feel that way.
“You can’t hide in a Test match.
“And I wasn’t going to be selfish with my decision.”
On his frustrating run with shoulder complaints, Slater added: “It’s tough especially after missing last year to get my body right and give myself a chance to play these games.
“Now it’s the other shoulder.
“It’s disappointing but I am comfortable with my decision.”
There was speculation Josh Dugan may move from the wing to fullback but Slater said Greg Inglis would wear the No.1 jersey.
That ensures 19th man Michael Jennings slots into the centre vacancy.
“Greg will slip straight into the fullback role and Michael Jennings has been playing some good footy and played Four Nations last year,” Slater said.
“In terms of preparation we won’t lose anything.”
Parker dipped his hat to Slater after the news sank in.
“Billy was always going to be the guy who would know if he could play the Test,” he said.
“True to form with Billy he put the team first.”