South Sydney Rabbitohs superstar Greg Inglis completed a full training session with team-mates in Mudgee on Friday morning to prepare for his comeback from a knee reconstruction in the Charity Shield but club officials will let him decide on Saturday whether he takes the field.
As revealed by NRL.com on Thursday, Inglis is on the verge of making an earlier-than-expected return for the traditional pre-season clash with the St George Illawarra Dragons.
Rabbitohs back-rower Angus Crichton has been cleared to make his return against the Dragons after opting to have part of a finger amputated in the off-season because it had failed to respond to previous operations.
Souths coach Anthony Seibold said he would leave the final decision up to his captain after 12 months on the sideline since injuring his knee in last season’s opening round.
“Greg is physically fit, he has been training for the past few weeks without any restrictions around his training,” Seibold said. “When Greg comes and tells that he is ready to play that is when we will play him.”
Dragons coach Paul McGregor said he expected Inglis to play a short stint in the Charity Shield to build momentum leading into club’s first Telstra Premiership match against the Warriors at Perth's new stadium on March 10.
“I think he will get a bit of time,” McGregor said. “I am not sure how long Greg will play, he hasn’t played for 12 months now so they would probably be thinking it would be nice for him to get a bit of time out in the middle.
“He is one of the best players in the world, so the amount of time he gets out there will probably be limited."
It is expected that Inglis will play left centre, with Alex Johnston to start the season at fullback until the Test star decides he is ready to resume the position.
Australian World Cup star Dane Gagai will play his first game in a Rabbitohs jersey at right centre.
England forward Sam Burgess, who has been named as Rabbitohs captain for the Charity Shield, said the return of Inglis would be a huge confidence boost for his team-mates.
"I'm pretty excited, it has been awesome having him back on the field with us at training," Burgess said. "He is just a bit of presence there on the field, with his experience in the game and what he brings without saying too much as well.
"He trained reasonably well this morning so we will see how he goes tomorrow. I think everyone is excited that Greg is even in contention to kit up for a game but Greg can come back in his own time and at his own pace."
Despite his team playing against the Rabbitohs on Saturday night, McGregor said he was looking forward to Inglis's return after so long out of the game.
“He has been one of the better players in the competition for a number of years and to suffer the injury he did last year and then have a few off-field problems as well mentally, it will be great to see him back out doing what he does best and that is playing rugby league," he said.
“He is a very good person, a great athlete and he has been missed from the game for 12 months."
With Inglis on track to play in the opening game against the New Zealand Warriors and halfback Adam Reynolds expected to be fit, Seibold said most spots in the Rabbitohs side were settled and he indicated that winger Richard Kennar and prop Mark Nicholls were close to forcing their way into the team.
"They have had particularly good pre-seasons, I thought they were strong last week against Wigan so it is all there for them to push for a spot in round one.
"If they play well tomorrow night, the reality is that they will suit up against the Warriors in round one and there are some other guys like Jason Clark, Robbie Farah and Damien Cook who are looking to play really well tomorrow night and push their claim for a jersey."
Seibold also revealed that rookie playmaker Adam Doueihi, who starred for Lebanon at the World Cup, was the likely replacement if Reynolds didn't recover from a foot injury sustained during a pre-season camp at the AIS in Canberra."
"It was interesting that Sam and a lot of the senior players were texting me during the World Cup saying we have got a player here," Seibold said. "He was playing out of position at left centre but did a particularly good job and Lebanon were great so Adam came back with some real confidence.
"He has got a lot of energy and is very youthful so I can't wait for him to get out there and play with some of the senior guys to see what he has got. It is a good opportunity for him to put some pressure on those halves. We see Adam as someone who will play first grade this year."