James Slipper will make his return from a two-month drug suspension as part of an Australian Super Rugby selection that will put the Wallabies through their paces ahead of the Bledisloe Cup.
The 29-year-old hasn’t played rugby at any level since May when he ran out for the Queensland Reds in their heavy defeat to the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
Two weeks later, Slipper was issued a two-month ban by Rugby Australia and fined $27,500 after it emerged he had returned a second positive test for cocaine.
But with the ban having expired on July 15, Slipper was summoned by coach John Manenti to play for the composite team that will play a warm-up match against the Wallabies on Friday night at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney.
Slipper, who has been capped 86 times for Australia, is one of four players with Test experience in the squad.
“James’ enthusiasm has really impressed me since we invited him to join,” Manenti said.
“He’s keen to be back out there and training hard but also really wants to get his old Wallabies teammates firing ahead of that first Bledisloe.
“That just shows the character of the bloke.”
Slipper said he was dealing with mental health issues at the time of his drug use but his acceptance of Manenti’s offer and the coach’s ringing endorsement of his application at training suggests he is on the road to recovery.
However, it’s unclear if he will represent the Queensland Reds again given coach Brad Thorn’s zero-tolerance stance against drugs.
Slipper may well have to move interstate to chase his dream of playing for the Wallabies at next year’s World Cup.
Blake Enever, Matt Philip and Richard Hardwick are the other capped players in Manenti’s side, which will be captained by Tom English of the Melbourne Rebels.
Five of the players in the squad are not tied to any Super Rugby team.
“We’ll have some fun this week but make no mistake, we will prepare as best we can to give Cheik’s side a real shake on Friday night,” Manenti said.
“I know how important this game could prove to be ahead of the Bledisloe Cup so we need to play with real accuracy and plenty of intensity straight from the kickoff.”
Entry is free for the warm-up clash, which Cheika has introduced in reaction to their slow start to last year’s Bledisloe Cup series.
1. James Slipper (Bond University/Queensland Reds)
2. Anaru Rangi (Endeavour Hills/Melbourne Rebels)
3. Sam Talakai (Box Hill/Melbourne Rebels)
4. Blake Enever (Easts/Brumbies)
5. Matt Philip (Endeavour Hills/Melbourne Rebels)
6. Angus Cottrell (Power House/Melbourne Rebels)
7. Richard Hardwick (Harlequins/Melbourne Rebels)
8. Pat Sio (Eastwood)
9. Moses Sorovi (Wests/Queensland Reds)
10. Andrew Deegan (Wanneroo/Western Force)
11. Filipo Daugunu (Wests/Queensland Reds)
12. Duncan Paia’aua (Norths/Queensland Reds)
13. Tom English – captain (Melbourne Unicorns/Melbourne Rebels)
14. Pama Fou (Eastwood)
15. Semisi Tupou (Box Hill/Melbourne Rebels)
16. Hugh Roach (Eastwood/NSW Waratahs)
17. Fereti Sa’aga (Melbourne University/Melbourne Rebels)
18. Mees Erasmus (Easts/Brumbies)
19. Angus Blyth (Bond University/Queensland Reds)
20. Tevin Ferris (Nedlands/Western Force)
21. Mick Snowden (Eastwood)
22. Sam Lane (Manly)
23. Fabian Goodall (Eastwood)