Slater-led Storm hold off Warriors to stay top
MELBOURNE Storm fullback Billy Slater has been around long enough to know when to peak.
While another Kangaroos cap is unlikely - in the short term - with Darius Boyd expected to be named at fullback for next month's Anzac Test against New Zealand, Slater took a giant stride towards Origin 2017.
The Queenslander has not worn the prized Maroons No. 1 since the 2015 Origin II blockbuster in Melbourne.
The unlikeliest of recalls would also give Storm's 'Big Three' a fitting Queensland finale after Cooper Cronk early this month declared he would be moving to Sydney at the end of the season.
Slater was in everything, for the second week in succession, marshalling Storm towards a crucial victory against archrivals New Zealand Warriors.
The 33-year-old was bombarded early, standing under the bright lights at AAMI Park forced to catch high ball after high ball on the last line of a sputtering defence.
The speedster, who just wanted to get back playing NRL this season let alone representative football after two years ruined by injury, propelled Storm with 191 metre from 23 carries.
Trailing 0-6 after 30 minutes, a crafty Slater kick led to Storm's opening try when the ball ricocheted off a Warrior and into the arms of Felise Kaufusi who offloaded to Nelson Asofo-Solomona.
The 200cm, 115kg prop powered towards the try line, reaching out to score the equaliser on his way to winning the Spirit of Anzac Medal.
Asofo-Solomona played 46 minutes off the bench, running 88m from nine carries.
The off-contract forward, understood to be close to signing a new deal, laid 26 tackles in the best on ground performance before a vocal crowd of 22,153.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy said after a couple of down weeks the star prop showed his best.
"Nelson started the season really well for us but probably the last couple weeks hasn't been where we want him to be," Bellamy said.
"That first spell of his just goes to show what he can do and what he's capable of.
"We just need to see that a bit more consistently."
Slater attacked the Warriors line again close to halftime, bursting out of congestion to push deep in enemy territory, only to be brought down opposite number, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
The Warriors burst out of the blocks in the second half, David Fusitua scoring for the second time in 34 minutes of play, before Storm's old firm combined to steady the ship.
Cronk cashed in on a daring Will Chambers run down the sideline to level the scores at 12-12.
Storm would not be headed again, electric winger Josh Addo-Carr and Kaufusi breaking through the Warriors' staunch defence to put the Anzac Day blockbuster to bed.
Bellamy described the narrow victory as the most complete performance of the season.
"Tonight other than the tries they scored there wasn't a whole heap of situations where we were lucky to defend," Bellamy said.
"I was really happy with the performance to be quite honest.
"It was a tough game of footy, it was a fairly quick game.
"I just thought we were just a little but better than them in the last 10 to 15 minutes."