Slater to make call on fitness
Kangaroos fullback Billy Slater insists that if his left shoulder isn't up to the task of stopping the man who injured it a month ago he will withdraw from the team as early as Tuesday afternoon as the team assembled in Brisbane on Monday.
Will Chambers, Josh Dugan, Alex Johnston and Trent Merrin were all proudly wearing their green and gold kits for the first time on Monday after being named to make their debuts at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night but it is the doubt over Slater that remains the most pressing concern.
Slater hasn't played since a crunching tackle by Warriors and Kiwis winger Manu Vatuvei in Round 5 and will be put through a vigorous training session on Tuesday afternoon to determine whether he will be fit to play against New Zealand.
Although desperate to return to the Kangaroos team after missing last year's Four Nations tournament, Slater won't put his own personal desire to play ahead of what is best for the team in their only Test of 2015.
"I'm really happy with the progress I've been making and I've just got to be really comfortable with being physical and what I'm going to face on Friday night," Slater said at the team's media session.
"I'm not going to go out there if I'm not comfortable doing what I normally do. I won't put the team in that position, but if I feel if it's right I'll be there.
"I'll train as normal [on Tuesday] and do some contact stuff at the end. Running the footy, tackling, and all that sort of stuff and if I get through that and I'm feeling comfortable then I'll put my hand up to play. If not I'll let them know.
"I feel quite good now but I'm not playing football right now so I've got to feel comfortable when I'm in that contact situation. Until I do that I can't give you a definite answer."
A veteran of 25 Tests, Slater's race against the clock began last week when he tried desperately to be passed fit for the Storm's clash with the Sea Eagles on Anzac Day, a deadline he was ultimately unable to beat.
He was in contact with Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens last week and again on Sunday morning but says he won't know for sure until it is given a stern test.
"I was preparing as if I was going to play last week and gave it a test on Wednesday and it just didn't come up as I would have liked and I didn't want to go out there and be vulnerable for the side," said the 31-year-old.
"I've had shoulder injuries in the past and this is a little bit different to those ones as well. I'm not too far away, I'd dare say if I don't play this week I'll more than likely play next week but I'm hoping to play this week.
"All I can be is honest and very grateful for the opportunity to play for Australia no matter what situation I'm in. You don't get the opportunity to play for Australia all the time and I'll be doing everything I can to be there on Friday night."
Storm, Maroons and Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith said he was unsure whether Slater would be there on Friday night but backed him to make the right call either way.
"He was pretty close to playing last week but I think Billy is the guy that will make the decision," Smith said. "The only thing he can do is test it at training this afternoon and [Tuesday] and he'll make a decision from there, but I think if he does make a decision it will be fairly early.
"He's not going to leave it to the 11th hour. I think he wants to make a decision so everyone knows whether he's in or his not but at the moment I've got no idea."