Billy Slater appears to have made a fantastic recovery from his knee injury and his presence in the Australia squad for the Rugby League World Cup final against New Zealand means the odds-on favourites are even stronger at Old Trafford.
A final decision over whether full-back Slater will start against NZ will not be made until Saturday but the fact he was named in Tim Sheen’s 19-man squad means he is very likely, barring a fresh setback, to be involved in some capacity in Manchester.
Sheen’s men, as expected, have made it through to the final without too many scares along the way and they are much-fancied in the rugby league betting markets on the bet365 website to gain revenge for the shock 34-20 World Cup final defeat in Brisbane against the Kiwis back in 2008.
Slater apparently trained without any issue with his knee on Wednesday, after missing the semi-final victory over Fiji, and the feeling is he will be back in the starting line-up, with Greg Inglis again on stand-by to replace him if he doesn’t make it.
Captain Cameron Smith believes Slater will be desperate to face New Zealand in the final and he expects him to prove his fitness in the lead-up to the clash.
“The one thing I can say is that he’ll give himself every opportunity. He’s very diligent with his recovery and his rehab and he’ll be working around the clock to get himself right,” Smith said.
“The issue he’s had is not so much the damage in his knee, because he hasn’t got much in there to damage. He’s already got rid of all his ligaments in his knee. It’s just the swelling in there.”
Many pundits and fans will say that the Kangaroos would have too much for their southern hemisphere rivals even without Slater on board, so strong are they compared with the rest of the world’s rugby league-playing countries, but his expected inclusion means New Zealand’s chances of upsetting the odds on bet365.com look even tougher.
They did manage it, of course, five years ago but, with Australia determined to make up for that unexpected defeat – and with Slater back in tow to boot – there can surely be only one winner this weekend.