Slater sends final message to Maroons selectors in Storm win
BILLY Slater sent one final reminder to Queensland State of Origin selectors on Thursday night, as he produced the match-winning pass for Melbourne to beat Cronulla 18-13.
In a physical encounter that befitted the rivalry between last year's NRL grand finalists, the Sharks recovered from an early 12-0 deficit to take a late lead before Slater worked his magic.
With six minutes to play and down 13-12 following a James Maloney field goal, Slater took the ball to the line and provided a short pass for second-rower Felise Kaufusi.
It marked the Storm's first win without halfback Cooper Cronk in two years, after he was rested on match eve due to a heavy workload through the Origin period.
Slater's match-winning play capped an up-and-down night at Southern Cross Group Stadium for the fullback in his last chance to impress before Queensland's State of Origin II side is announced.
A controversial omission from Origin I, he broke through five tackles and made a blinding cover tackle, but coughed up a costly error on attack that led to Cronulla's first try.
After he fumbled a ball into Maloney, the Sharks five-eighth broke downfield and attracted a penalty, before he put Luke Lewis over via a ball that went to ground in the following set.
Cronulla reduced the margin to two just nine minutes into the second half through Sosaia Feki, before Maloney levelled the scores courtesy of a 62nd minute penalty goal.
The NSW five-eighth then appeared to have the match won for Cronulla after a 72nd minute field goal, before Slater stood up with his 12th try assist in 11 games.
Meanwhile fellow Queensland hopeful Valentine Homes ran 172 metres at the back for Cronulla, but lacked the spark when required for the Sharks. Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith also appeared refreshed following his break after Origin I, as his fingerprints were all over the Storm's first two tries in the opening eight minutes.
After he kicked a 40-20 from dummy-half in the third minute, he fired a flat pass for Kaufusi close to the line from him to score his first. Smith then went short again out of dummy-half five minutes later for prop Tim Glasby, who took the ball on the advantage line and crashed over the line.