Billy Slater makes the tough call for Kangaroos’ sake
BILLY Slater's efforts to shoulder his way back into his Test No.1 jumper continue to be a frustration for the Melbourne Storm star who has unselfishly withdrawn from the trans-Tasman international with Four Nations conqueror New Zealand on Friday night.
Despite feeling "very close" after completing the Kangaroos' lengthy field session at Langlands Park, the rising 32-year-old gave the thumbs down to returning from his latest shoulder surgery to play Test No.26 in the green and gold.
It was an injury to his right shoulder which forced him to miss Australia's Four Nations campaign last October to undergo surgery to have him right for 2015.
Greg Inglis will now shift to fullback where he dominates for South Sydney with Roosters flier Michael Jennings promoted to the centre and Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans getting a call-up to the bench.
"I wasn't going to be selfish with my decision and just go out and play for Australia. I have to think about the team," Slater said. "I missed last year (Four Nations) to get my body right to give myself a chance to play these games and now it's the other shoulder."
Coach Tim Sheens and his players would have accepted whatever decision Slater made but there was no way he was going to let them down if he was not confident he could get the job done.
"I was close but I wasn't confident," Slater said.
"I got through the contact stuff but there were a few moments I felt I could be vulnerable and I wasn't prepared to put myself in those positions in a Test.''
No doubt his teammates would have done their best to protect him had he decided to play. "Look, there's no where to hide," Slater added.
"There's 13 players out there and it's wide open and in a Test match it's just magnified so you need to be fit and doing your job.
"I wasn't going to have anyone carrying me."
Slater endorsed Inglis as the perfect replacement and said the team's preparation would not suffer now that he had made the tough call.
Australia is banking on the return of the mercurial Johnathan Thurston back in the No.6 jumper after he missed the Four Nations loss.
"He knows when to turn it on," grinned Inglis, who has the same big-game trait. "He's such a great competitor. He has been his entire career. He hates losing."
Inglis said the loss to New Zealand, which can claim the world No.1 ranking from the Kangaroos with a third victory in six months, "hurt deeply".
"We have to put that to bed and concentrate on winning this Test match," he added.
Asked to rate his form, Inglis paused before responding, "well, we (South Sydney) are losing".