Billy Slater played his first game for over a year after his shoulder surgery, coming onto the field from the bench on 28 minutes and helping Melbourne Storm to a thrilling 14-12 victory over Brisbane Broncos at AAMI Park.
But it was his fellow Golden Boot winner Cameron Smith who clinched victory for the Storm, converting from the touchline a late try by winger Josh Ado-Carr on 76 minutes when the Broncos’ heroic defence in the face of a penalty barrage had looked likely to win the day.
The Broncos had taken an early lead on 12 minutes with a 70-metre dash by speedster James Roberts from a loose Storm pass, and Jordan Kahu’s conversion gave them a 0-6 lead.
Cooper Cronk had a try appeal turned down for a double movement but the Storm scored a legitimate try on 21 minutes when Cameron Smith created Ryley Jacks’ first NRL try, with Smith goaling to tie the scores before adding a penalty on 29 minutes shortly after Slater had entered the field to a rapturous reception from the Storm fans.
The Broncos took the lead in the second half with a brilliant individual try by Ben Hunt, who beat several defenders with great pace from 20 metres out. Kahu’s conversion gave the Broncos a four-point lead.
And when Will Chambers had a try dubiously disallowed by the bunker with twelve minutes to go, it looked as though the Broncos may hold out until Ado-Carr’s late effort and a magnificent conversion from the Storm skipper sealed the points in a fine game between two highly motivated sides, which also saw Benji Marshall coming off the bench to make his debut for Brisbane.
Storm: 6 Cameron Munster, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 William Chambers, 4 Cheyse Blair, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 20 Ryley Jacks , 7 Cooper Cronk, 21 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Cameron Smith (C), 10 Jordan McLean, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Kenny Bromwich, 13 Dale Finucane; Subs: 1 Billy Slater, 8 Tim Glasby, 14 Christian Welch, 16 Nelson Asofa Solomona.
Broncos: 1 Darius Boyd (C), 2 Corey Oates, 3 James Roberts, 4 Tautau Moga, 5 Jordan Kahu, 6 Anthony Milford, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 Korbin Sims, 9 Andrew McCullough, 10 Adam Blair, 11 Sam Thaiday, 12 Matt Gillett, 13 Josh McGuire, Interchange: , 14 Alex Glenn, 16 Herman Ese’ese, 17 Jai Arrow, 18 Benji Marshall
A full report of all the weekend’s NRL action will feature in Monday’s League Express