Billy Slater has staked his claim for an Origin recall with an attacking masterclass guiding the Melbourne Storm to a commanding 40-12 victory over the Newcastle Knights at AAMI Park tonight.
The Storm were dealt a huge blow heading into the contest after Captain Cameron Smith failed in his bid to back up from Wednesday night's brutal Origin opener.
The absence of their skipper seemed to have little impact on the home team early with the Storm getting off to a lightning start with a try to big Fijian winger Suliasi Vunivalu, who scooped up a cross-field chip kick from halfback Cooper Cronk to step inside Dane Gagai and touch down in the 3rd minute, handing his team an early 4-0 lead.
A set-piece in the 15th minute where fullback Billy Slater swept around the back and threw a one-handed pass over the top to his winger Josh Addo-Carr resulted in the Storm's second try of the night. Cameron Munster who filled the goal-kicking duties for the night landed his first of the evening to give his team a 10-0 lead. ###>
Well and truly on the front foot, the home team hit the accelerator from the ensuing set of six with a short ball from Slater sending back-rower Felise Kaufusi on a 30 metre sprint to the line. The extras were added again by Munster giving them a 16-0 lead inside the opening quarter.
The floodgates looked set to open for the remainder of the first half, but the Knights did well to hang in defensively and were rewarded with a try to Ken Sio in the 28th
minute after the winger took advantage of some good lead-up work from Gagai to dive over in the corner. The sideline conversion was good from Brock Lamb reducing the deficit to ten.###>
The visitors continued to defend well for the remainder of the opening stanza, but multiple penalties given away on their goal-line proved crucial with back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon given his marching orders for a stint in the sin bin just before the break.
After setting up two tries in the opening half, Slater made sure his team would get off to another quick start in the second forty when he scooped up a grubber from Cronk and forced his way over the line. Munster added the extras to give his team an ominous 22-6 lead in the 44th minute.
Another cross-field kick from Cronk resulted in Vunivalu crossing for his double in the 50th minute and soon after the Queensland half laid on his fourth try-assist with an inside ball for Slater to slice through the Knights defensive line to cross for his double in the 53rd minute.
New Zealand product Brandon Smith was on debut to help fill the hooking duties and was rewarded for a strong first appearance in the top grade burrowing over for his first NRL try in the 63rd minute giving the Storm a 36-6 lead.
A consolation try for the Knights came in the 73rd minute when Fitzgibbon pounced on a grubber in-goal from Gagai, but it was a rare bright spot in a disappointing night for the visitors.
A late try from Cheyse Blair just before the siren put the icing on the cake for the Storm ensuring they remain atop the premiership ladder at the halfway point of the season.
Next week the Storm look set for a much tougher battle when they go to war with grand final adversaries the Cronulla Sharks in Thursday night football at Southern Cross Group Stadium. The Knights meanwhile will be looking to regroup quickly before taking on arch-rivals the Manly Sea Eagles at Lottoland on Friday evening.