PANTHER PRIDE | A big win for the mountain men tonight has them firmly entrenched in the top eight, ...
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Flying Melbourne fullback Billy Slater continues to build a compelling case for a Queensland recall.
Playing in front of Maroons coach Mal Meninga, Slater shone again on Friday night in the Storm's 28-8 victory over Brisbane at Olympic Park.
While much of the post-match focus was on Storm forward Adam Blair being placed on report for a chicken wing tackle on Bronco Michael Ennis, Meninga would have been more interested in the numerous Queensland prospects on show.
And none more so than Slater, who has been off the representative scene for a couple of years after an ill-timed seven-week suspension for kicking Wests Tigers' prop John Skandalis in the head in 2006.
"Billy has been in pretty much that sort of form all year," said Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy, who also takes over the reins for NSW this year.
"He's been tremendous, he does a lot of cleaning up, he's safe under the high ball and when he gets the footy, more times than not something happens.
"... I've said it a thousand times, I wouldn't swap him for any fullback in the game.
"At the same time there are a lot of good fullbacks.
"(Brisbane's Karmichael Hunt) is the incumbent with Queensland, I think he's the incumbent with Australia and he has always done a great job so it's a bit hard for Billy.
"That suspension cost him a little bit a couple of years ago when he lost his spot and hasn't got it back."
Bellamy was also delighted with another of the Storm's many Queenslanders, second-rower Michael Crocker, who was playing his first match of 2008 after recovering from a shoulder injury.
Crocker took his remarkable record with Melbourne to 24 wins from as many matches.
"It's stating the bleeding obvious to say how good Michael Crocker is," said Bellamy.
"He's had a restricted pre-season and it's his first game tonight and I thought he was outstanding.
"He's an important part of our team, just like everybody else but he just seems to have a little bit of everything when he plays with us."
Queensland name their team for Origin I on May 13, eight days before the game in Sydney.
Brisbane's biggest worry after dropping their first points of 2008 was the recurring knee problems for Darren Lockyer, which forced the skipper to start and finish the match on the bench after missing the previous week's win over the Cowboys.
"The knee is pulling up sore but it's not unstable and the surgery is certainly intact," said Brisbane's club doctor Matt Hislop.
"We believe it's just general soreness.
"It's been slowly improving ... and we're just going to have to keep an eye on it."