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Winning Starts Monday

Brad Walter’s weekly column on the World Cup wash up from the weekend of rugby league action around the globe.

RLWC2017
  • Johnson boost for Kiwis
  • Sutton firming for Fiji debut
  • Milford keen for World Cup
  • Galloway injury blow for Scotland
  • USA name Vaivai for Test

New Zealand halfback Shaun Johnson has been cleared to take his place at the World Cup after scans confirmed the knee injury he sustained last Friday night wasn’t as serious as initially feared.

Johnson, whose last minute try against England at Wembley snatched a place for the Kiwis in the 2013 World Cup final, ruptured the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the Warriors loss to Penrith.

The injury was initially diagnosed as a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which would have ruled Johnson out for the season but Warriors team doctor John Mayhew said the 26-year-old would be able to play in six to eight weeks.

“This is a much better outcome than we had expected,” Mayhew said. “We had believed the injury was likely to be an ACL but scans have indicated this isn’t so and Shaun won’t need surgical intervention to repair the injury.”

The news is a huge relief for New Zealand coach David Kidwell as it means that even if the Warriors don’t make the play-offs and Johnson doesn’t play again before the World Cup, he will be fit for the tournament.

Sutton firming for Fiji debut
John Sutton has given the best indication yet that he is set to make his long awaited debut for Fiji at the World Cup.

Sutton, who captained South Sydney to the 2014 NRL premiership and has played a record 276 games for the club, is eligible to play for the Bati through his Fiji-born mother, Rotuma. 

"My mum would definitely love me to play but I've just got to finish the rest of this year and see how the body is feeling," Sutton told nrl.com. 

"I've spoken to the [Fiji] coaching staff about maybe playing so we'll just have to wait and see. I've never played before so it would be something special and I suppose I could bring a bit of experience."

With Jarryd Hayne appearing unlikely to be selected by Australia after being overlooked for the ANZAC Test and the Kangaroos Merit team named after the Origin series, Fiji officials are hoping that he and Sutton will be the Bati halves pairing.

Rugby union-bound Parramatta winger Semi Radradra also told Fiji media during a trip home with Melbourne try-scoring sensation Suliasi Vunivalu last week that he hoped to play for the Bati at the World Cup.

Milford keen for World Cup
Samoa playmaker Anthony Milford is determined to play in the World Cup after making a successful return from a dislocated shoulder in Brisbane’s 34-22 win over Newcastle on Saturday night.

Milford, who played for Samoa in May’s Pacific Test against England, suffered the injury during his State of Origin debut for Queensland in the series opener and will require surgery at the end of the season.

However, the Broncos star said he wanted to play in the tournament and would delay the surgery if possible.

"I want to play the World Cup," Milford said. "Whether I can or not that's up to the club. Best interests for the club is what I want to do first and foremost.

“Hopefully if he shoulder pulls up good after the last game hopefully I’m up for selection.”

If he is available for the World Cup, Milford will come under consideration for Australia as a replacement for injured superstar Johnathan Thurston, as well as Samoa, who he qualifies for through his father.

“I didn’t feel it once,’’ said Milford, who tested the joint by having the Brisbane props run at him in the lead up to the Knights clash, in which he returned a week earlier than expected.

Galloway injury blow for Scotland
Leeds Rhinos prop Keith Galloway appears destined to never get the opportunity to represent Scotland at a Rugby League World Cup after snapping an Achilles tendon for the second time in 12 months.

Galloway, who qualifies for Scotland through his Dundee-born father but is yet to play for the Bravehearts, ruptured his Achilles tendon during Friday night’s 10-7 win over Hull.

The injury has ruled him out of a second successive World Cup after missing the 2013 tournament due to a stress fracture sustained in the last game of the NRL season while playing for Wests Tigers.

The 31-year-old also missed last year’s Four Nations tournament and the first two months of this season while recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon in his other leg.

Leeds and USA Hawks coach Brian McDermott said the first half injury was “devastating news” for the 31-year-old, whom he described as “the ultimate soldier”.

“We all feel for Keith. It was a very sombre dressing room at halftime,” he said.

Galloway took to social media to thank those who had sent messages of support, including Lote Tuqiri, Bryce Gibbs and Matt Ballin.

“It is a bitter pill to swallow as I had worked hard to come back from rupturing the other Achilles at the end of last season,” he wrote.

“Gutted, but I guess there is a lot worse things that can happen in this world. Looking forward to cheering on the boys for the rest of the season. Thanks for all the support and I will work hard to overcome this again.”

USA name Vaivai for Jamaica Test
Former South Sydney, St George Illawarra and Penrith centre Junior Vaivai will travel to Jacksonville to play for the USA in next weekend’s Test against Jamaica.

Vaivai, who plays for Wests Devils in Wollongong, is the only player selected from outside the USARL competition in the 18-man Hawks side, which includes seven Test debutants.

The 27-year-old is eligible for the Hawks through his American Samoa heritage and was MVP of the series in last year’s Rugby League Americas Championship, a Tri-Series between the USA, Canada and Jamaica.

Hooker Kristian Freed, who hails from Brisbane and now plays for the New York-based White Plains Wombats, will make his 12th Test appearance for the USA in the July 22 clash with the Reggae Warriors.

Hawks coach Sean Rutgerson, who will be an assistant to Brian McDermott at the World Cup, described the Test as “the first substantial step this year for domestic players to be considered for RLWC2017 in October and November”.

USA Squad: ​Gabriel Farley (Philadelphia Fight); Marcus Satavu (Brooklyn Kings), Junior Vaivai (Illawarra Wests), Taylor Alley (Central Florida Warriors), Jonathan St John (Tampa Mayhem); Dominic DeFalco (Brooklyn Kings), Matt Walsh (White Plains Wombats); Joshua Rice (New York Knights), Kristian Freed (White Plains Wombats), Andrew Kneisly (Philadelphia Fight), Fotukava Malu (Atlanta Rhinos), David Ulch (Tampa Mayhem), Nicholas Newlin (Atlanta Rhinos). Interchange: Sean Hunt (Atlanta Rhinos), Martwain Johnson (Delaware Black Foxes), Bart Longchamp (Central Florida Warriors), Chris Frazier (Northern Virginia Eagles). 18th man: Terrance Williams (Atlanta Rhinos).

By Brad Walter | @BradWalterSport
Chief Correspondent, RLWC2017

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