Kiwi centre Steve Matai is looking forward to putting his troublesome shoulder through a physical workout in a pre-World Cup rugby league test against Tonga in Auckland on Saturday.
Coach Stephen Kearney has decided against keeping Matai in cotton wool until the upcoming tournament, but instead named him on Wednesday in a virtual full-strength lineup to face Tonga.
Matai didn’t join the Kiwi camp until yesterday, having been doubtful because of the shoulder injury he carried through Manly’s run to the National Rugby League title.
He was cleared on Monday after he saw a medical specialist in Sydney and was told him he didn’t require immediate surgery.
Matai on Wednesday said he had wanted to play against the Tongans, rather than wait until the Kiwis’ World Cup campaign, which begins the following weekend with a clash against Australia in Sydney.
“What a better way to test it than against the Tongans,” he said.
“They’re a big physical team.”
Matai said the shoulder was “still pretty tender” a week and a half after the grand final victory over Melbourne.
“But I’ve spoken to the medical staff and they have reaffirmed to me that everything should be fine,” he said.
“I didn’t want to rest. I wanted to play and I’m really happy I’m in the side.”
Also included is New Zealand Warrior Nathan Fien, who will be the starting hooker.
The test will be Fien’s third in a Kiwi jersey, and his first since he was ruled ineligible to represent New Zealand during the 2006 Tri-Nations.
Queensland-born Fien’s claim via ancestry two years ago was ruled invalid in the so-called “grannygate” affair, but the utility has since qualified by residency.
Fien is one of six Warriors in the side.
Among them is utility Lance Hohaia, who gets the fullback spot vacated by injured Leeds custodian Brent Webb.
Wests Tigers’ Benji Marshall will play his first test outside Australia, teaming up in the halves with Wigan halfback Thomas Leuluai.
Marshall’s three previous caps have all been gained against Australia in Brisbane.
Melbourne back rower Sika Manu is in line to make his test debut, having been included in an expanded six-man bench.
Kearney said he had named what was “as close as we’re going to get” to his top line-up.
“Given the time we’ve got between this game and the next, it’s important to get the combinations as quickly as possible.”