MANCHESTER: Australian coach Tim Sheens and his New Zealand counterpart Stephen Kearney may be forced to make early decisions on the fitness of their injured stars as World Cup rules need them to name squads 48 hours before Saturday's final.
Sheens was hoping to give Billy Slater as long as possible to prove he had recovered from a knee injury but the superstar fullback will have to be selected in a 19-man squad named on Thursday afternoon if he is to have any chance of playing.
Unlike the NRL, teams aren't permitted to make changes from outside the 19-man squad once it has been officially named for each World Cup match unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Kearney faces an even tougher dilemna as the Kiwis have wingers Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (ankle) and Manu Vatuvei (groin) and second-rower Frank Pritchard (hamstring) in varying degrees of doubt for the decider at Old Trafford.
If Kearney names Tuivasa-Sheck and Vatuvei but has doubts about them he will need to select standby players in the 19-man squad.
However, the New Zealand mentor would then need to either take a risk on Pritchard's fitness or not select him among the 19 players named on Thursday.
Should he name Tuivasa-Sheck, Vatuvei and Pritchard, and neither of the three be fit to play, Kearney would then need to apply to tournament director Nigel Wood for permission to bring another player into his final 17-man squad.
"Official notification of the 19-man squad must be 48 hours before kick-off, so that would be Thursday at 2.30pm," RLWC communications manager Martin Johnston said.
"The teams may request a change after that but they will only be granted at the discretion of the tournament director, on the provision of relevant medical evidence."
Australian officials are aware of the situation and hope Slater is able to confirm his fitness at training on Wednesday but if there is any uncertainty Sheens will be forced to pick him in the 19-man squad, along with a possible replacement.
As a result, he may have to cut either Nate Myles or Robbie Farah from the 19-man squad – causing potential problems if either a forward or one of his playmakers is injured in the warm-up and he doesn't have a replacement player for that position.
If Slater gets through Wednesday's fitness test without any problems, Sheens will still need to include Brent Tate in the 19-man squad as cover until he can make a final decision after Friday's captain's call at Old Trafford.
Tate, who missed out on the 2008 World Cup decider because of a knee injury sustained in the semi-final, played left centre in last weekend's 64-0 defeat of Fiji, with Greg Inglis switching to fullback.
The 31-year-old said he had been given no indication of whether Slater would play but is hopeful of winning a place on the interchange bench if he does.
"I am just waiting, I guess that is all it is for me at the moment," Tate said. "I am just preparing as if I am playing, whether it is there or somewhere else, and it will just be like a normal week for me.
"I don't like thinking about it too much because if I am not there and playing it would be pretty awful but that is the way life is.
"You want to be in there and you want to be playing, they are the things that get you out of bed and to training in the morning so I am desperate to play and whether it is in the centres or somewhere else, I don't really care.
"No matter who he picks there is going to be some quality players miss out and I even hate the fact I am sitting here talking about how I could be that player."
Kiwis officials are hopeful Tuivasa-Sheck will be fit to play after being cleared of a fracture in his lower leg, while Vatuvei is considered a 70 per cent chance of recovering from the groin injury that sidelined him from last weekend's epic 20-18 defeat of England.
However, Jason Nightingale is expected to be chosen in the 19-man squad on Thursday and Kearney may also name Krisnan Inu or Josh Hoffman as extra cover.