As the Kangaroos build towards this weekend’s Four Nations final against the Kiwis at Anfield, there is something big missing from their camp.
A grizzly facial injury suffered in last week's 36-18 victory over England means Sam Thaiday will play no part in the decider, with the veteran forward undergoing surgery on Tuesday (local time) to repair fractures in his cheekbone and eye socket.
Described by many players as the cultural leader of the Kangaroos, the Queensland Maroons forward is already being missed by the squad according to Johnathan Thurston.
“It is tough for him and the playing group, he is such a likeable character and everyone gets along with him, he is the joker of the team,” Thurston said.
“We are all saddened by his injury, but he has been a big part of this team for many years and has played over 30 Tests for the green and gold, and that won't go unnoticed.
“He came back to the hotel (earlier in the week), obviously he is fairly distraught … he got operated on today so hopefully we will see him in the next couple of days.
“His face is pretty smashed up.”
After initial fears that Thaiday may have to spend weeks in England before being able to fly back to Australia, coach Mal Meninga confirmed to NRL.com that it should be a straight-forward recovery for the Broncos enforcer.
“It is a common injury, that's the surgeon's words, but it obviously doesn’t happen all that often in rugby league,” Meninga said.
“It is a collision injury similar to car accidents and things like that.
“We are not quite sure what the outcome is yet, but hopefully it's a pretty simple and ordinary operation.
“He will have plates in it and he will be able to travel straight away.
“It is a short recovery, he will probably be out tomorrow and he will come up to Liverpool for the game and then fly back to Australia with the rest of the team next week.”
Ahead of meeting New Zealand for the third time in just over a month, Thaiday's injury creates an opening on the Kangaroos' bench.
With only two forwards in their reserves, Meninga said either Manly workaholic Jake Trbojevic or Canberra big man Shannon Boyd would come into the 17, but said it was too early to confirm which one.
Thaiday had appeared in all three of the Kangaroos' pool matches at the tournament, averaging 81.6 metres per game.
“[We haven't decided who will replace Sam] yet, but we will make a decision over the next couple of days,” Meninga said.
“There are two options in Shannon Boyd and Jake Trbojevic, they are sort of our forward reserves at the moment.
“We will make a decision in the next 24 hours.”