"HELLO, Kevvy? Yeah it's me, Billy. I'll see you on June 21."

If Billy Slater isn't in Queensland's starting 17 for the second State of Origin game - pending availability - this reporter will happily wear egg on his face.

The Melbourne fullback should have worn the Maroons' No.1 jumper in the series opener - on form alone if not on this so-called "loyalty" they love to brag about north of the Tweed.

Slater is regarded by many rugby league experts and former greats as the best fullback to ever grace the sport.

And if you needed an argument for the affirmative, look no further than Friday's performance to sink Newcastle 40-12 at AAMI Park.

Slater was the best player on the field. He was close to unstoppable.

Two try assists, two tries, 138 running metres. A constant headache for the poor Knights defence.

Darius Boyd is a good player - no questions there - but if Slater isn't the best fullback on offer at the moment we don't want to know who is.

And this is all from a man who is about to turn 34 years old and had barely touched a football for the two years prior to the 2017 season.

"It's incredible, I don't think anyone thought Billy Slater would come back and be the champion he has," Fox Sports commentator Braith Anasta said during the game.

"I think he questioned himself ... he's answered those questions in sensational fashion."

Queensland coach Kevin Walters teared up when explaining why Slater had been omitted from the Maroons side for Origin I.

If there's any tears next time the team is announced it will be from NSW supporters dreading the return of the game's best to the sport's hottest cauldron.

Cameron Smith was a late withdrawal for the Storm against the Knights, having pulled up sore from Wednesday night.

It gave Newcastle fans a momentary reason to cheer. Their elation would not last long.

It took barely two minutes for Melbourne to draw first blood, when a deft Cooper Cronk chip caught Newcastle napping in defence.

 

Slade Griffin in action for the Storm.
Slade Griffin in action for the Storm. DAVID CROSLING

Flying Suliasi Vunivalu pounced on the well-placed kick and then strolled past Dane Gagai to score an easy, soft four-pointer which Cameron Munster failed to convert from out wide.

Gagai atoned for that sin soon after when he pulled off a trysaving tackle on Cheyse Blair, who had caught the Knights fullback out one-on-one and looked certain to score.

The relief didn't last long for the visitors, as Melbourne ran in their second four-pointer in the very next set.

It was a crafty wrap-around play involving Tohu Harris and Billy Slater which set up left winger Josh Addo-Carr and extend the lead to 10-0.

From the kick-off, it took the Storm three players to charge up the ground and backrower Felise Kaufusi walked through a woeful Knights defence to take the scoreboard to 16-0 within 19 minutes.

The embarrassment continued when the Knights were somehow pushed dead from a scrum on their own goal line.

It wasn't until Ken Sio scored a superman try in the corner and Brock Lamb converted from the sideline in the 28th minute that Knights fans were able to momentarily lift their head out of their hands.

Sio was robbed of another in the very next set when the sideline referee judged a flat ball to have been thrown forward - a dubious call at best given the plethora of forward passes that go uncalled every week.

The Knights finally showed some defensive steel when they lost Lachlan Fitzgibbon to the sin bin and managed to hold out repeated Melbourne sets inside their 20 metre zone.

The Billy Slater show continued after the break when the little fullback pounced on a Cooper Cronk grubber to snag his own meat pie next to the posts.

Vunivalu then bagged his second in the 50th minute when he leapt over opposing winger Nathan Ross to take an AFL-like mark and plant the ball down over the white line.

Three minutes later Slater got his second when he took an inside ball from Cronk and sprinted 30 metres to the paint.

The it was debutant Brandon Smith's turn to get in on the action, burrowing over from dummy half to score in the 63rd.

Slater made his only mistake for the game ni the 72nd minute when he failed to knock a Gagai kick dead, allowing Fitzgibbon to pounce and score.

For good measure Melbourne crossed again before full time through Blair out wide.

News Corp Australia

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