Against the clock: Australian fullback Billy Slater. Photo: Getty Images
Fullback Billy Slater has until Wednesday to prove he is fit to play in the World Cup final. Australia coach Tim Sheens told Set Of Six last week Slater would be given "until the last minute" to show he had overcome a knee ligament injury but the deadline has been brought forward somewhat, it appears. "He's run this weekend without any issues, straight lines," said Sheens. "It's now a matter of building that up over the next three days. I'd probably like to know by Wednesday because we'd probably only get one more session that week. I certainly wouldn't risk the campaign or the team's chances by risking him if I didn't think he was right, if he couldn't pass certain criteria that we probably set."
POSITION VACANT, SUTTO
One of rugby league's biggest challenges before the next World Cup is to get a fourth country up to speed with Australia, New Zealand and England. You can only keep the superpowers and everyone else apart for so long before there is a blow-out in a semi. John Sutton would have been enormously influential for Fiji. "I spoke to John a little bit (this year)," Fiji coach Rick Stone said after his team's 64-0 loss to Australia on Saturday. "He won the Petero Civoniceva Medal for the best performed Fijian in the NRL this year. He probably needed some minor surgery at the end of the year to tidy up his knee and he's very disappointed. I hope Sutto was sitting watching the Fiji tournament evolve and thinking 'geez, I wish I was there'."
PAT FOR MAC
This column and others has been critical of England coach Steve NcNamara for the way he has handled disciplinary issues in his squad during the World Cup but he deserves credit for putting his own disappointment in the background and lauding the spectacle of the semi-final against New Zealand on live TV within minutes of Shaun Johnson scoring that try. Everyone in England, from fans to players, coaches and media representatives are acutely aware of the game's place in the country's sporting scene and want to see it elevated. Even after a defeat which he will no doubt struggle to overcome, McNamara realised the sport had just experienced a triumph. The England side bussed back to Loughborough on Saturday night - it would have been an excruciating journey.
BUILDING DE FENCE
While Australian players were unaware they were approaching a tryscoring record last week, statistics relating to defence were widely quoted within the camp. "I believe the last Australian team to go four consecutive matches without a try against them was 30 years ago," captain Cameron Smith said, in reference to the fabled 1982 Kangaroos. Explaining the changes since the first-up win over England, coach Tim Sheens said: "There's no doubt it's attitude ... one-on-one tackles and group tackles as well as edge decision making defence which is the hardest thing against most sides because there are so many decoys in the game today. It's putting time into lots of those things and it's not easy over a short period of time in a tournament. Motivation is the secret, technique is the cream on top."
MIXED PACIFIC SIGNALS
The NRL's Andrew Hill says a communication breakdown was behind the mix-up over whether Fiji had already qualified for next year's Four Nations. "Yes, there were discussions along the lines of the highest-ranked team being invited to compete in the Four Nations," Hill said. "But then we looked at all the possible results and it became clear we may not be a clear highest qualifier. What if the last two Pacific countries were eliminated at the same stage of the tournament? At worst, there has just been a misunderstanding." Fiji will play Samoa for the spot and that looks a good idea, with whichever team that's admitted coming off a loss and not a 64-0 hiding.
JUST THE TICKET
One of the reasons crowds at the World Cup have been so successful has been the ticket prices. Ten or 15 pounds would get you into almost everything and even before England were eliminated, you could get corporate hospitality at the World Cup final for 80. The NRL inhabits a different market and has the exact opposite policy, pumping up prices for key events like Origin and grand finals since the new administration took over. But why not have a $10 weekend each season, across the competition? It would definitely win back some of the good will lost at the blue chip events.