Storm Into Grand Final Thanks To Billy Slater, But Will Billy Be There?
The Melbourne Storm are into their third straight grand final after beating the Cronulla Sharks 22-6 in Melbourne, but will Billy Slater get to finish his career in the decider?
Slater did everything in the first half to set up this victory in front of 26,621 fans at AAMI Park in Melbourne. But it was his early try-saving tackle on Shark Sosaia Feki which we'll be hearing about for days to come, because it involved what looked very much like a shoulder-charge.
The NRL rules state that a player can be charged by the match review committee if he forcefully contacts a rival player without using, or attempt to use, his arms and/or hands to tackle the opposing player.
And at first glance, that looked a lot like what happened.
Already it seems likely that this will be one of those grand final weeks where it's all about a judiciary controversy.
And don't forget what happened in 2008 when Melbourne were beaten 40-0 in the grand final by Manly after Cameron Smith was rubbed out by the judiciary earlier in the finals series.
The Sharks had won four of their last five against the Storm, which meant they were the only team which of late has regularly troubled the reigning NRL premiers and the most successful team of the last two decades.
Would that help them tonight? Forget it.
The Storm led 20-0 at halftime in the most Storm-like performance imaginable. That tells you all you need to know. This team is an adjective in its right.
And no Storm player is more Storm than Billy Slater, the 35-year-old fullback who, more than any other player, has helped convert a respectable number of Melburnians into NRL fans.
There's proof of that statement too. Before the game, a kid was pictured holding a sign saying "I play NRL because of you. Thanks Billy".
Slater was brilliant in defence. Has any player ever anticipated the play more instinctively?
And of course, there were two tries.
Slater was also involved in the tries he didn't actually score. What a player.
Cronulla scored early in the second half, as they had to. Or so it seemed. Try disallowed. Still 20-0 to the Storm.
In the second half, the Storm went from the excitement mode of the first half to their trademark unspectacular but impenetrable mode. Finally, the Sharks got through with 12 minutes left on the clock, leaving them just the faintest, faintest whiff of hope.
But without the injured Paul Gallen, the Sharks were never quite in the same league as the Storm. Melbourne held on. As they so often do. Yet another grand final awaits -- their eighth in 21 seasons.
But does it await for Billy Slater?
Featured Image: Getty