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Finals come early for Storm, Broncos

Finals come early for Storm, Broncos
Billy Slater says it feels like the finals have come early for the Melbourne Storm. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.

Billy Slater is no stranger to the big stage so when runs onto AAMI Park on Friday night he should feel right at home.

Brisbane's trip to Melbourne has been built as a possible elimination final with the loser set to undergo a tortuous weekend, hoping results fall their way.

Both sides are not accustomed to watching finals football from afar, with each having missed just one finals series since 2003.

The tension-filled build-up to this game has had fans and players alike swept up in a premature finals atmosphere.

Even the Storm's champion fullback has not been immune to the hype.

"Personally, it feels like the first final," said Slater. 

"I think subconsciously you are certainly more focused because your season is on the line. 

"You go out there and play your best no matter what the situation but when there is that opportunity of it being your last game of the year you're certainly not going to leave anything in the tank. 

"We are in that situation and so are the Broncos."

Even the tumultuous Melbourne weather has been swept up in finals fever.

"It is just that time of year," said Slater. 

"The sun was out at training today and we trained really well. It is a huge occasion so hopefully we can get a heap of support here at AAMI Park and play some good footy."

The Broncos were dealt a mid-week sucker punch with influential prop Sam Thaiday ruled out through suspension for a dangerous contact charge.

As a Maroons teammate of Thaiday, Slater was not sugarcoating how big an absence the veteran prop would be for the visitors.

"It is a huge loss," said Slater.

"When I heard the news that Sammy wouldn't be playing due to suspension I did feel a little bit for Sam. He is a good mate of mine and a few of the guys in our team. 

"He is a huge loss for them."

A total of 10 players from both sides represented the Maroons in this year's Origin series, making for some intriguing individual battles.

Slater will have his hands full going toe-to-toe with Justin Hodges at fullback while an in-form Ben Hunt will ply his trade against the best halfback the competition has to offer in Cooper Cronk.

Star talent with everything to play for – Christmas really has come early.

Kick-off is at 7.45pm at AAMI Park with one lucky fan to be picked out from the crowd to be given the chance to kick of $1 million.

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