England are boosted by the return of talismanic forward Sam Burgess for their World Cup quarter-final against Papua New Guinea on Sunday.
The 28-year-old South Sydney favourite has missed the last two group games after damaging a medial ligament in his right knee in the opening defeat by Australia in Melbourne on October 27.
After making steady and consistent progress in his recovery, Burgess came through a full first training session in Albert Park after the England team returned to Melbourne from Perth and head coach Wayne Bennett admits his return is timely as the team enter the knockout stages.
“Sam will play,” said Bennett said after the session. “He is all good but he has still got tests to pass.
“Sam brings a lot but right now his priority is to play well and not worry about the team. The team has been playing well without him.
“If he is playing on the edge it is not as demanding physically as it is in the middle so he might be able to get through the whole game or he might not. It is not a real issue in the first half, it’s something for the second half.”
Burgess takes the place of Cronulla forward Chris Heighington, with Ben Currie keeping his place in the second row after making a promising start to his Test career.
Winger Jermaine McGillvary, who has scored four tries in three matches so far, sat out the training session after picking up an ankle injury in Sunday’s 36-6 win over France but Bennett expects him to recover in time.
“It has been around for a little while but we do not think he will not play,” Bennett said. “He will play.”
With Jonny Lomax still struggling with a calf strain, Bennett is spared a selection dilemma at full-back, with Gareth Widdop keeping the No 1 jersey after an impressive display against the French and Kevin Brown retaining the No 6 role alongside Luke Gale.
Asked if Widdop provides him with more options, Bennett said: “It does. He was very good but Stefan (Ratchford) was very good there last week as well so we have got some good options.
“We’ve got a pretty good squad and capable of doing a job if we need them.”
Hooker Josh Hodgson is recalled after being rested for the final group game but his rival James Roby earns a place on the bench.
Team: G Widdop; J McGillvary, K Watkins, J Bateman, R Hall; K Brown, L Gale; C Hill, J Hodgson, J Graham, S Burgess, E Whitehead, S O’Loughlin (capt). Interchange: A Walmsley, T Burgess, B Currie, J Roby.