Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens admits the selectors are a long way from knowing what side Australia will field against New Zealand in Friday week’s rugby league Test in Brisbane.
With injury clouds hanging over Josh Morris, Justin Hodges, Paul Gallen, Nate Myles and Billy Slater, Sheens said on Thursday he expected the team make up would be unclear until shortly before it’s named at the conclusion of the NRL round on Sunday evening.
After losing last year’s Four Nations final to the Kiwis, Sheens knows the pressure in on to prevent a third successive loss to Stephen Kearney’s men, who also beat the Kangaroos in the group stages of the competition.
“Last week Josh Morris and Nate Myles didn’t play, Paul Gallen didn’t play. It’s something we need to keep an eye on,” Sheens told AAP.
“We’ve pencilled a group of players in but the make-up of that list is more than a team. We cannot make any decisions until this (NRL) round unfolds.
“But it will be a very strong, competitive Australia side that takes the field.”
Josh Morris has been ruled out of Canterbury’s encounter with the Wests Tigers on Friday due to an ankle injury while fellow centre Hodges is yet to be cleared of the hamstring problem that’s affected him all season.
Gallen is battling a badly bruised hip that kept him out of Cronulla’s win over South Sydney on Monday and is not a definite starter for the Sharks’ clash with Penrith on Sunday.
Slater was initially sidelined for a month with a shoulder issue but is in line to make an earlier than expected return for Melbourne’s Anzac Day encounter with Manly.
Should the star fullback get through the game it would allow Sheens to play Greg Inglis in the centres with Michael Jennings or Dylan Walker favourites to partner him should Hodges and Morris be ruled out.
“A fit Billy Slater will always be considered,” Sheens said.
“There is no doubt if he plays this weekend he’ll be back on the radar. That is no secret.
“I’ll have to speak to Josh (Morris) and find out how he is travelling. We have got more than a week before the game is played so we have a little bit of time.
“If he and Hodgo aren’t available we have some good depth. (Michael) Jennings and (Dylan) Walker played in the Four Nations and did well.
“Jennings has been playing well and played four games in the Four Nations and was part of the World Cup squad and been in the system for quite a while now.”
Sheens also hinted Andrew Fifita could be in line for a return to the Test side, having missed the whole of the 2014 representative season due to injury and loss of form.
“To be missing two games due to suspension is not the best thing, but Fifita’s form had been excellent,” he said.
“He was back to the 200 metres a game but he is in full training. But that will be a phone call to (Sharks coach) Shane Flanagan before we make any decision.”