Controversially snubbed from Origin I, Billy Slater put on a masterclass against the Newcastle Knights to emphatically remind Queensland selectors of his lethal capability on the Origin stage.
Without captain Cameron Smith and a fatigued Cooper Cronk backing up from Wednesday night’s brutal 28-4 loss, Slater inspired the Melbourne Storm to a comprehensive 40-12 win over the Knights.
Scoring two tries and delivering two stunning try assists, Slater loomed as a danger at every turn and corner in the contest. Speaking after the game, Slater admitted he has developed a rounded game to become a more complete player, and a larger threat on the Origin stage when Queensland need him most as they trail 1-0 after a demoralising defeat.
"I don’t go out there trying to score tries – it’s a part of the game where sometimes you’re lucky enough to get across the line but as I’ve matured as a player and built other elements to my game, I’m probably more of a creative fullback then a one-dimensional finisher, which I was at the start of my career," Slater said. "I feel I’ve got a few more strings to my bow then just scoring tries."
Slater’s impressive performance – along with his legendary "Big Three" combination – gives selectors no option but to seriously consider recalling the Queensland legend in a must-win Game Two in Sydney.
"I don’t think it’s any secret that I want to be part of State of Origin and a part of the Queensland team," Slater said. "Whether it was Game One, Game Two or Game Three, I just really enjoy that part of rugby league.
While Slater was devastated not to be named by Maroons coach Kevin Walters, he understood their rationale.
"The way I look at it, there wasn’t a wrong decision [by the selectors]. If you have a look at the fullback there, it’s really hard to argue. There wasn’t a wrong decision they could’ve made – they’ve just gone that way. Whether they stick with that I don’t know but they’ve got options."
Slater put his Origin setback aside as he continues his mighty comeback from two severe shoulder injuries that kept him out for most of the past two seasons.
"I respect and understand the way selectors have gone, it is what it is," Slater said. "All I can do is go out and play footy, and I’m really enjoying that at the moment. I’m really enjoying my football which was taken away from me for the past two years. I can’t get too disappointed, I’m out there doing what I love."
Long-time teammate Cronk would also love to see Slater back in the maroon.
"You’d love for him to have the story of getting back to the level of playing," Cronk said. "He’s doing that at the Melbourne Storm and he cherishes the Maroon jersey.
"He’ll concentrate on what he can do and when the team’s named, hopefully he’ll be part of it. The selectors have a tough job but I’m sure they’ll make the right decision."
If the prospect of a grand final rematch between the Storm and Cronulla Sharks next Thursday night didn’t already ignite anticipation, the prospect of pending representative selections in what is a genuine Origin audition is sure to send the rugby league community into overdrive with excitement.
The Sharks are loaded with NSW Blues stars including Wade Graham, James Maloney, Andrew Fifita and Jack Bird, and captain Smith opted to skip the Storm’s match against Newcastle to ensure he’s at his best for another installment in their hostile rivalry.
It’s the perfect opportunity for Slater to consolidate his Origin claim, and adding another classy display in his run since his return will certainly seal the deal for him to rightfully reclaim his fullback spot for Queensland.
"We have another game next Thursday, that’ll be my focus," Slater said. "It is what it is and it will be what it will be. I will just get myself right to get myself ready as best I can for next Thursday.
"If the selectors think I’m the best person for the job, they’ll pick the best side and if I’m in it I’ll do my best."