Slater's International Career Not Over: Meninga
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga says Billy Slater still has a future in the national side after the star fullback was overlooked for the green and golds' clash against the Kiwis on May 5 at GIO Stadium in Canberra.
Following two injury-plagued seasons, Slater has shown glimpses of his best for the Melbourne Storm this season, but it wasn't enough to unseat incumbent Darius Boyd who made the No.1 jersey his own in 2016.
The 33-year-old has played 25 Tests for Australia, and according to Meninga, there's no reason why he shouldn't add to that tally.
"I certainly do [see him playing for Australia again]," Meninga said at the team announcement on Wednesday morning.
"He's getting back somewhere near his best form. He's come back from injury extremely well and it's very pleasing to see him back in the game.
"This Test match was picked based on our loyalty and their success in the Four Nations and the way that they've played at the beginning of the year. It doesn't mean to say that we'll be true to this at the backend of the year when we get through the season, finals footy and Origin football. That'll become part of the criteria when we pick the World Cup squad at the end of the year.
"We agonised over it all. We felt that Darius deserved to retain his spot. He was man of the match in the Four Nations final in Liverpool and he's in great form at the moment so we chose to go that way."
Meninga was confident five-eighth Johnathan Thurston would be fit to take on the Kiwis despite missing the past fortnight for the Cowboys with a calf complaint.
Thurston has been named on an extended bench for North Queensland's game against the Eels on Friday night, but won't have to play to prove his worth to Meninga.
"He trained well yesterday so…hopefully he'll play on Friday night. He's close to playing [for the Cowboys] so that's why we've picked him. We're very confident he'll play the Test match," Meninga said.
"He doesn't have to play the game on the weekend. He's a pretty experienced player and knowing John he'll want to play the Test match if he's fully fit.
"He'll come into camp and through our protocols he'll go through a medical and we'll make some decisions on the Sunday. It's one of the reasons James Maloney is 19th man as well, just in case."
The squad as a whole is fairly similar to the one that defeated New Zealand 34-8 in the Four Nations final at Anfield last year, with Meninga staying loyal to the players who got the job done on tour.
Injuries to Matt Scott and Greg Inglis (both knee) have forced a couple of changes with Storm centre Will Chambers joining the three-quarter line, while Bulldogs enforcer David Klemmer starts the game in the front row. Sam Thaiday and Josh Papalii join the bench, with Shannon Boyd relegated to 18th man duties.
With just four days to prepare for the Test, Meninga has opted to stay loyal to players who have been there before, including Trent Merrin and Michael Morgan who have both been down in form for their respective clubs in 2017.
"We're pretty open around the selection process for this game in particular around rewarding and acknowledging the players for their efforts last year in the Four Nations," he said.
"It's only common sense that because of the short turnaround we named players that have been part of the process before. Will Chambers has played for Australia and Queensland on the left side so we've got no problems about him playing.
"Trent is playing in a team that's struggling at the moment but I still feel he's trying hard, he's working really hard for the team and his effort with the ball and in defence is pretty good.
"The Cowboys in general miss John, and hopefully John is back playing on Friday and obviously that will help Michael as well.
"Their form I don't think really matters. They'll come back into an environment where they're comfortable, they're happy and they're playing with some terrific players. I think that will affect them in a positive way."
This article first appeared on NRL.com