80:00
Fri 4 August 2017
1300SMILES Stadium - Crowd: 21830

Billy the Kid Shoots down Cowboys

Last week it was a Cameron Smith masterclass and tonight in Townsville it was Innisfail's own Billy Slater who starred, having a hand in three of the Storm's five tries as they ran out 26-8 winners over fellow contenders the North Queensland Cowboys at 1300 Smiles Stadium.

After returning this week after missing last week's demolition of Manly with concussion, the Queensland fullback was in everything for the visitors, with his incisive runs and dangerous support play proving a nightmare for the Cowboys defence to handle on a dry track.

What is scary for opposition teams moving frward is that with the so called ‘Big 3' now nearing their mid thirties, they have shown no signs of slowing down. Will Slater showing he still has the pace at 34 years of age to match it with the very best in the NRL.

Melbourne's tryscoring wingers Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr both scored doubles to continue their outstanding tryscoring run this season, which has netted them 29 tries between them so far in 2017.

For the Cowboys, early injuries to skipper Gavin Cooper and winger Antonio Winterstein in the opening 10 minutes meant Paul Green's men were automatically on the back foot against the competition favourites, with the game ending injuries reducing the Cowboys to 15 for the remainder of the match.

The loss at home, sees North Queensland slide further away from the Top 4 and should Manly defeat the Roosters on Sunday, they could slip to as far down as seventh by the end of Round 22 in worrying signs, given they still have to play fellow finals contenders Penrith, Cronulla and Brisbane in three of their remaining four games to finish the season.

The Storm came into the match in red hot form and they took their very first opportunity to open the scoring in Townsville, after Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt dropped a Cooper Cronk bomb deep in his own half. Off the scrum, speedster Josh Addo-Carr got on the outside of Kane Linnett and Antonio Winterstein to score with his blistering speed in the corner to make it 4-0.

A uncharacteristic error from Cronk, with his kick on the last going out on the full, gave the Cowboys some good field position and they were able to hit back when hooker Jake Granville sneaked over for a clever try from dummy half. Ethan Lowe converted Granville's try and the Cowboys lead 6-4.

North Queensland were full of confidence after the Granville try, and a penalty right in front of the posts gave Ethan Lowe a gift two points and the Cowboys backrower made no mistake, extending the home side's lead to 8-4 after the opening 20 minutes.

Simple errors were hurting the Storm, with Billy Slater dropping the ball close to the tryline, however it did not take long for the Queensland fullback to make up for it, when off the back of consecutive Storm penalties he put centre Will Chambers into some space and he scored in the corner. Smith converted from the sideline and the Storm regained the lead 10-8 with 10 minutes remaining in the first half.

Cowboys five-eighth Michael Morgan then pulled off a huge play to get the home side back in their own end, when he pulled off a sensational 40/20 just when his side needed it. The Cowboys couldn't convert however and just before the halftime break it was that man Slater again who saw some space off another Storm set piece, kicking behind the line for Suliasi Vunivalu who got the ball down in his trademark spectacular fashion to extend the Storm's lead. Cameron Smith converted as the siren sounded and the visitors lead 16-8 at the break.

The second half got off to a nightmare start for the Cowboys, when interchange forward Sam Hoare lost the ball in the very first tackle, however the Cowboys scrambled and managed to hold out the Storm early. The Cowboys lifted in the second stanza with some strong runs from Jason Taumalolo allowing Jake Granville plenty of space at dummy half and Michael Morgan did his best to create something for his outside men.

With the game still within North Queensland's reach, it was Slater who pushed the game away from the home side's grasp, when the mercurial fullback placed a beautifully timed grubber behind the line for Vunivalu to score his second try, despite being blatantly pulled off the ball by Cowboys centre Kane Linnett to seal the game for the 2016 runners up.

With a minute on the clock winger Josh Addo-Carr beat some very tired Cowboys defenders to race away to put an exclamation mark on Melbourne's 26-8 victory.

Melbourne now look all but certain to race away with the Minor Premiership in their current form and next week return to AAMI Park where they will face fellow title contenders the Roosters in an absolute blockbuster next Saturday night.

North Queensland will need to do some soul searching and find their bearings quickly, as they now travel to Penrith to take on the resurgent Panthers also next Saturday night.   

3. Billy Slater

The Queensland fullback was superb with 3 try assists and could very nearly had a few tries with some great line running. In superb touch after missing last week through concussion.

2. Suliasi Vunivalu

Scored two tries and made some very strong carries. An absolute tryscoring freak, who has now scored more tries than any player in history in his first two seasons with 39 tries from 40 matches.

1. Jake Granville

Scored a clever try and was dangerous out of dummy half all night for the Cowboys. They will need the livewire hooker at his best if North Queensland are to mount a challenge without Jonathan Thurston in 2017.