Billy Slater sent a message to the Queensland selectors with a brilliant performance as the Melbourne Storm hammered Newcastle 42-12 at AAMI Park tonight.
The Queensland selectors had left him out of the Maroons’ drubbing by New South Wales on Wednesday night, but after this performance they are unlikely to make the same mistake twice.
Queensland skipper Cameron Smith was out for the Storm, with Slade Griffin starting at hooker and Junior Kiwi Brandon Smith joining the bench, while Joe Stimson dropped out of the 17.
For the Knights, Lachlan Fitzgibbon was elevated to the starting side with Mitchell Barnett dropping to the interchange.
The Storm led 16-6 at half-time after registering three first-half tries from Suliasi Vunivalu, Josh Addo-Carr and Felise Kaufusi, with Slater prominent in the buildup to the second and third, particularly when he gave a superb one-handed overhead pass to Addo-Carr for his try.
But the Knights replied when Dane Gagai created a fine try just inside the touchline for former Hull KR winger Ken Sio.
Slater scored two brilliant tries in the second half to seal the result 30 minutes from full-time.
His first came from a perfectly placed Cronk grubber to score beside the posts and extend the Storm’s lead to 22-6 four minutes into the second half.
The crowd then saw a typical Slater run through the defence as he eluded several Knights tacklers to race 30 metres and score under the posts to cap an impressive night.
Cronk bounced back from a disappointing Origin loss with a solid match for Melbourne, providing three try assists, including setting up winger Suliasi Vunivalu for his double.
The Knights scored a consolation try by Lachlan Fitzgibbon but Cheyse Blair had the final say as he crossed for the Storm, who finished 40-12 victors.
Storm: 1 Billy Slater, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Will Chambers, 4 Cheyse Blair, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Cooper Cronk, 8 Jesse Bromwich, 19 Slade Griffin, 10 Tim Glasby, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Tohu Harris, 13 Dale Finucane; Interchange: 14 Jordan McLean, 16 Kenny Bromwich, 17 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 20 Brandon Smith.
Knights: 1 Dane Gagai, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Joe Wardle, 4 Peter Mata’utia, 5 Nathan Ross, 6 Brock Lamb, 7 Jaelen Feeney, 8 Daniel Saifiti, 9 Danny Levi, 10 Josh Starling, 11 Sione Mata’utia (C), 21 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 13 Luke Yates; Interchange: 12 Mitchell Barnett, 14 Sam Stone, 16 Tyler Randell, 17 Jacob Saifiti.
Full coverage of all the weekend’s NRL matches can be found in Monday’s issue of League Express