Cowboys chief executive Peter Parr last night rubbished claims from former dual international Wendell Sailor that fullback Matt Bowen was not up to representative football, asking selectors: "What more does he have to do?"
As the Kangaroos breathed a sigh of relief over the likely availability of Manly fullback Brett Stewart for the Test match against New Zealand in Wellington on October 14, debate raged over why the Cowboys' livewire custodian had been overlooked.
Despite Bowen's sublime form in the finals series, Sailor yesterday agreed that national selectors were right to not select Bowen.
"Matt Bowen is one of those players who at NRL level is unbelievable, but I don't think he's really performed at Origin," the former Queensland and Australian winger told 2KY. "And Test football, I don't think that's him. I think he's going to always be an outstanding NRL player."
Parr hit back at Sailor's comments and said the Cowboys were bewildered that Bowen had not even been selected on the bench, with selectors instead opting for Newcastle fullback Kurt Gidley.
"That's five people who do not think that Matty Bowen can play - four selectors and Wendell Sailor," he said. "They must be the only ones because there would not be a person in the game who would think he is not up to representative footy.
"For Matty to have not one but two fullbacks chosen ahead of him is a bitter pill to swallow."
Storm fullback Billy Slater was also unlucky not to earn selection, while Bowen had recently confided to friends about his deep desire to play against the Kiwis.
"He is not the type to expect selection," Parr said. "But what else could he have done? Let's hope it isn't the thing that makes him start thinking about rugby union."
Stewart looks certain to make his debut after being cleared of serious injury following his concussion in the grand final.
While the Kangaroos coaching staff will make a decision on the Sea Eagles speedster after tomorrow's medical, Manly spokesman Peter Peters said that Stewart had passed a series of tests after suffering a heavy knock while fielding a bomb in Sunday's grand final against the Storm. Stewart was taken from the field after being hit in a 44th-minute tackle by Slater and Michael Crocker and did not return.
"He is fine, he will be right to pass the medical," Peters said.
The Kiwis said they had no injury concerns, with Sea Eagles centre Steve Matai fit to play despite facing shoulder surgery after the Test.
The other shock omission from the Australian side was Roosters five-eighth Braith Anasta, with selectors opting for Sharks utility Greg Bird, who is believed to have undergone one-on-one training with former Test halfback Andrew Johns in preparation for playing five-eighth for Australia.
Like Bowen, Anasta was in career-best form towards the end of the season and was considered a strong contender for the No.6 jumper after taking his side from wooden-spoon favourites to the verge of the play-offs.
Roosters coach Brad Fittler said he was surprised that Anasta did not earn selection.
"But I'm sure he will get his chance if he keeps playing the way he does," Fittler said. "The best thing for the Roosters is that we get him at the start of next season without the chance of him being injured."
Last month, Anasta told the Sydney Morning Herald he feared he was "behind the eight-ball" for representative selection because of NSW's failed State of Origin campaign.
"It looks like it has worked against me," Anasta said at the time. "I'm not sure where I am in the selectors' minds."
- Sydney Morning Herald
Who do you think will win the Rugby League World Cup?