Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith says Billy Slater is still the best fullback in the game after the Storm ace starred in their 28-10 victory over Parramatta on Sunday afternoon.
In his first game since injuring his shoulder in round five, Slater bagged a first half brace then set up another in a typically dynamic performance in the round nine win.
They were his first tries since round 25 last season.
“So he’s had a bit of a drought in the first four, five weeks that he played,” coach Craig Bellamy said post-game.
“But he made a couple of really good tackles as well.
“The direction, the encouragement he gives the frontline from back there, I’ve never seen a fullback be as good as that.”
Smith said it’s his teammate’s communication skills that set him apart from the rest of the fullbacks in the competition.
“The work he does off the footy is his best attribute,” Smith said.
“And that’s what makes him the best fullback in the game. He might not be as explosive as some fullbacks these days.
“But he’s still the number one fullback in the competition, I believe. He played well tonight.”
The game was locked at 10-all entering the second half when Eels halfback Chris Sandow was denied a try due to a double movement.
In-form Melbourne winger Marika Koroibete broke the deadlock minutes later and the Storm suffocated the home side for the rest of the match.
“If Sandow scored that try when we dropped the ball from the scrum, perhaps it might’ve been a different scenario,” Bellamy said.
“I was happy with the way our guys played in that second half. I’m sure we can build on that.”
Eels coach Brad Arthur said his team needed to learn to bounce back from tough calls.
“It was a big moment in the game but we probably need to learn to respond a little bit,” he said.
“I thought there were some moments in the first half too that went against us and we stuck to what we needed to do.
“In the second half they stuck to what they wanted to do for 80 minutes and we didn’t.”
The win pushes Melbourne back up into second spot on the NRL ladder, while defeat pits the Eels alongside Cronulla and Manly at the bottom of the table.
Arthur said his side only had themselves to blame.
“It’s not where we wanted to be. We completed at 54 per cent today and gave away nine penalties compared to receiving five and they completed at 80 per cent,” he said.
“We made just under 100 more tackles than the Storm. It’s hard to keep fronting up and fronting up when you’re exerting that much energy.
“It’s no-one else’s fault but our own.”