Rookies Set To Go Head To Head

Melbourne Storm rookie sensation Billy Slater is eagerly anticipating his clash with fellow 2003 NRL debutant Brett Firman when the Storm takes on the St George Illawarra Dragons at WIN Stadium this Friday night.

After making a welcome return to form last week bagging a triple in the Storm?s 38-point win over the Eels, Slater is keenly favoured to take out the NRL?s Rookie of the Year Award at the end of the season.

But Dragons halfback Firman is widely regarded as the player that will push Slater for Rookie honours after enjoying an outstanding season with the joint venture in his debut year.

Friday night?s game will pit the two young stars against each other and Slater is quick to sing the praises of his Dragons opponent ahead of the clash that will go along way to confirming the final makeup of the top eight.

?Brett has had a really good season this year and I think he?s the Dragons? key man, when he is on his game the entire team is on their game,? Slater said.

?He?ll be a very good player for a long time yet and if we shut him down then that?s the first step to winning the game.?

The 20-year-old fullback is well aware of the need to consolidate the Storm?s place on the NRL ladder and despite the club enjoying a bye round next week, coach Craig Bellamy refuses to let his side think about finals.

?It?s good to get some form together before the finals and hopefully I can keep that up but we?re pretty much going to Wollongong thinking that we have to win this game,? Slater added. ?The coach has been telling us that we?re not quite in the finals yet and we could possibly miss out if we lose both our remaining games and the Dragons win all of theirs.

?They (Dragons) are going to be coming out playing their best footy of the season so we?re just going to have to be on our game and make sure we do the little things right.

?The Dragons have got so many good players, they?ve got internationals and Origin players so no one can ever afford to take them lightly.?

For the young Queenslander this week?s match also means travelling to another new ground with another new set of opposing fans - something the former track work jockey is still getting used to in his first NRL season.

?It?s all an experience so far this year playing at the grounds you used to watch on television but I?m excited to be playing at a new stadium each time we play away,? Slater explained.

?It?s just another learning curve really.

?Your first year in is obviously a long and tough year on your body and week in and week out can be a bit draining but it?s certainly all worth it.?

This week?s clash between the Storm (currently 6th) and the Dragons (9th) will also see Melbourne rookie coach Craig Bellamy up against the Dragons? Nathan Brown, also a first year coach in the NRL.

Bellamy will be hoping the Storm can better last year?s trip to Wollongong in round 14 where Melbourne fought out a 30-all draw with the Dragons despite being a man down for much of the second half.

Melbourne holds an overall 5-1-3 record over St George Illawarra including the club?s 20-18 Grand Final victory in 1999 in front of over 107,000 people at Stadium Australia.