Billy Slater fit to return for Australia and exorcise his 2008 demon


Rugby League Correspondent

Billy Slater looks ready to take his place in Australia’s side to try to win back the World Cup his mistake cost them five years ago. The Melbourne full-back was player of the tournament in 2008. In the final, however, it was his error that created the winning try for the Kiwis’ Benji Marshall. This time, he missed the semi-final against Fiji after aggravating a knee injury in the last group game against the US and there were fears he might have to sit out his chance for revenge in this afternoon’s final at Old Trafford.

Slater trained normally yesterday, though, according to his team-mate, Johnathan Thurston. “From what I saw him do on the pitch, he looked the goods,” the stand-off said. “He had the week off, so he’ll be fresh and ready to play and he’ll have no demons from the 2008 final. He tackles everything front on.”

The captain of Melbourne and Australia, Cameron Smith, has known Slater since the Under-15s and he agrees that the famous mistake will have no bearing on his effort to achieve fitness.

“He got over that really quick,” Smith said. “Billy’s a person who lives very much in the moment.”

A final decision will be made this morning, but all the indications are that Slater will have his moment again. That would mean Greg Inglis moving back to centre, with Brent Tate missing out.

A beautifully balanced World Cup final at a packed stadium this afternoon could hinge on both teams’ last-minute decisions over who is fit to play and who is not. The Kiwi Cup holders have already put a line through the name of one player they would dearly have loved to have in their starting XIII. Even in something of a golden era for New Zealand forward play, Frank Pritchard’s combination of physical presence and deft handling is close to unique.

His hamstring failed to get through a fitness test, however, which means that, as in the semi-final against England, Elijah Taylor will start.

There have been question marks through the week as well about both Kiwi wingers, Manu Vatuvei and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Vatuvei’s brute power near the line is well known, but Tuivasa-Sheck has been one of the revelations of the tournament, his breathtaking footwork bringing him eight tries so far.

The pair are both considered likely to play, which means no place for another outstanding winger, Jason Nightingale.

Another bonus from Tuivasa-Sheck is the instant rapport he has struck up with his centre, Dean Whare, who has been clearly the best threequarter in the World Cup. At its most extreme, the partnership produced the freak try that contributed to England’s defeat at Wembley, but consistently through the tournament the pair have displayed a rare understanding.

New Zealand also have the ultimate class act of the tournament. The late selection of Sonny Bill Williams was a messy business, but it has been justified by the growing influence he has exerted.

He has stood out, without seeming to be quite in top gear; he could well find that at Old Trafford today. One thing that is not in doubt is his enjoyment at being back in international rugby league after a six-year absence.

“To come away and enjoy time with the brothers and pull the Kiwi jersey on, I’ve actually fallen back in love with rugby league this year,” he said.

Williams, who was voted the world rugby league Player of the Year this week, won the union version of the World Cup in 2011 and is also New Zealand’s No 1 heavyweight boxer, was part of the side that was seriously roughed up by England in an epic semi-final at Wembley but still came through after scoring a converted try with barely 20 seconds left to win 20-18.

“Twelve rounds?” said Williams. “It certainly was like that.”

One of Williams’ more memorable moments this World Cup was when he wove through the Samoan defence, only to take the ball dead on the narrow in-goal area at Warrington. It is irresistibly amusing when one of the world’s greatest players can do something like that, but Australia’s Thurston believes there is a serious safety concern at stake.

The Kangaroos’ second-rower Luke Lewis damaged his shoulder crashing into an advertising sign at Cardiff and took no further part in the tournament.

The Old Trafford pitch is equally tight and players these days are not always inclined to give up their pursuit of the ball merely because it is going out of play.

“Hopefully, there’s padding there, so if they do go over they’re protected somehow,” Thurston said. “If there isn’t, we’ll see another incident like Lewie.”

Despite the non-appearance of the host nation in the final, the match became an official sell-out yesterday afternoon with the sale of the last few hospitality packages.

No doubt a few English ticket-holders will stay away but the vast majority, after last weekend’s disappointment at Wembley, will take the view that the only thing to do is to relax and enjoy the show.

The key men at Old Trafford: Two Kangaroos and two Kiwis  who could decide the outcome of the World Cup final

Greg Inglis


At centre or full-back, Inglis, with his combination of size, speed and agility, is an athletic freak. Has 22 tries in 26 Australia appearances.

Johnathan Thurston (Australia)

If anyone doubted Australia’s ability to replace Darren Lockyer, Thurston’s skill at finding the special play has provided the answer.

Issac Luke

(New Zealand)

Inglis’s South Sydney Rabbitohs team-mate is the biggest pest in rugby league and, if given any sort of gap, an electrifying runner from dummy-half.

Sonny Bill Williams

(New Zealand)

Any doubts about his commitment to rugby league can be set to one side. The best player in the world and one of the best forwards ever.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions