Billy Slater is congratulated by Benj Marshall of the Broncos  at AAMI Park in Melbourne
Billy Slater is congratulated by Benj Marshall of the Broncos at AAMI Park in Melbourne JOE CASTRO

Slater back as Storm snatch thrilling win over Broncos

WELCOME back Billy, we've missed you.

Billy Slater made a triumphant return to rugby league as his old partner-in-crime, Cameron Smith, iced the cake in Melbourne's pulsating 14-12 defeat of the Broncos.

But the joy at Slater's emotional comeback was tempered by the news his fullback understudy Cameron Munster will miss up to two months after breaking his jaw in a head clash with Corey Oates.

In an epic clash worthy of a grand final, the Broncos looked to set post a famous victory, hanging onto a 12-8 lead after repelling wave after wave of Melbourne attack.

But the Storm broke Brisbane's hearts, with flying winger Josh Addo-Carr crashing over in the corner to level scores 12-all three minutes from time.

Smith, his veins as icy cold as an Alaskan igloo, then landed the sideline conversion to send AAMI Park into meltdown and hand the Broncos their second consecutive loss.

Perhaps more importantly, Smith delivered victory on a gold platter for his great mate Slater.

Playing his first NRL game in 374 days after two shoulder operations, Slater looked like he'd never been away, terrorising the Broncos defence with his fitness and lightning feet.


Billy Slater on the move in Melbourne
Billy Slater on the move in Melbourne JOE CASTRO

Slater exuded relief after his successful 50-minute return from his injury ordeal.

"I feel pretty good, the shoulder pulled up fine and so did the body," he said.

"I wasn't too bad on the bench, it's been the whole week. Today was the longest day of my career ... just the unknown after what I've been through the last few years.

"I have a bit to work on, but I've never felt so happy to get through the game.

"I'm looking forward to the rest of the season now."

He started on the bench and was forced to wait 29 minutes, but his injection was turbo-charged ... and proof the champion Storm fullback is not a spent force.

Slater, who ran for 112 metres from 14 carries, wasn't perfect. At times, he lacked rhythm and tried too hard, but when the rust is carved away, the 33-year-old can be an Origin player again.

"I'm very happy to see him back again," Smith said.

"Billy is like family to me and to watch him go through what he has in the past 24 months, it's been hard. I can't imagine what he went through.

"He was a bit rusty, but he had some moments of classy touches as well. He was pretty relieved to get through unscathed ... his confidence is only going to grow from here."

Of his match-winning kick, Smith said: "That's why you play the game, you pretend you are kicking those goals in the backyard. I just backed myself and it went over."

It was a crushing loss for the Broncos, who defended so magnificently, none better than Matt Gillett, who amassed 44 tackles, including two trysavers.


Billy Slater is  tackled by Herman Eseese of the Broncos
Billy Slater is tackled by Herman Eseese of the Broncos JOE CASTRO

But on a night where the code prayed for a Slater fairytale, the footballing gods delivered.

"Physically he could have come back earlier, but we wanted to make sure he could handle the contact," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.

"He's looked great at training, he hasn't lost any sharpness at all. It's just great to have him back."

The opening half had the crackle, pop and physicality of a semi-final. Brisbane largely looked comfortable handling the Storm's offensive shapes but it was two turnovers - one by Anthony Milford, another by Sam Thaiday - that put the Broncos under the pump.

The Broncos look a much sharper machine when Ben Hunt takes the line on and their general hit paydirt when he sliced through just after half-time for a 12-8 lead.

The final 30 minutes was as tense as an NRL grand final. The Broncos were brave and refused to be beaten. But eventually the pressure told, the force of Slater's desire and the power of Smith's will proving a lethal cocktail.

News Corp Australia

Top 10 activities around CH

Top 10 activities around CH

Some top bucket list activities around the region.

Shorten promises $4.8m to upgrade vital Emerald service

Shorten promises $4.8m to upgrade vital Emerald service

Investment set to deliver better patient outcomes and less travel

Passion for the people

Passion for the people

Emerald Showgrounds caretaker keeps the crowds rolling in.

Local Partners