Rugby League


Slater could have surprise run against Raiders

Melbourne is adamant it's not being disrespectful to the All Stars concept after admitting Billy Slater could be a late addition to the squad to play Canberra in a trial match at Geelong on Friday night.

Last month the Storm fullback withdrew from the NRL All Stars side with an ankle injury and was replaced by Melbourne teammate Justin O'Neill.

It follows the public uproar when Manly back-rower Anthony Watmough was also pulled out of Saturday's clash at Suncorp Stadium, only to be named in the Sea Eagles' squad to trial against Cronulla on Friday night.

After rating Slater's chances of playing as ''60-40'', Melbourne general manager of football Frank Ponissi defended the decision, insisting it would be ''foolish'' to let him play All Stars given his limited training. If Slater fronts at Geelong, he will play a maximum of 20 minutes to help him prepare for the World Club Challenge against Super League champion Leeds in England next week.

The Queensland Origin star's inclusion is likely to infuriate the Raiders, who had hoped to rest Indigenous All Stars Blake Ferguson and Jack Wighton from the pre-season showpiece.

''[If he plays] it's 15 minutes of a trial in Geelong, it's far different than playing 80 minutes [for the NRL All Stars],'' Ponissi said. ''What people forget is the All Stars now, the players tell you when they get back it's not a trial, the intensity and speed of the game is very high.


''He just wasn't confident of getting through 80 minutes given the lack of training he's had, he just hasn't had the miles in his legs to compete for even half a game, let alone a full game.

''You could not in all seriousness send a player out there with one week of full training, it would be foolish.''

Whether Slater plays is dependent on how he recovers from Thursday's training run. A decision will be made on match day. Slater's Melbourne and Queensland teammate Cooper Cronk also withdrew from the NRL All Stars with a back niggle.

Canberra coach David Furner had earmarked the clash against the defending premiers as an ideal chance to field his strongest line-up.

However Terry Campese, Brett White, Glen Buttriss and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs are all out through injury, and the Raiders' six-player All Stars representation - Jake Foster, Wighton, Ferguson, Joel Thompson, Reece Robinson and David Shillington - is more than any other club.

Last month Furner blasted the high number of Raiders players in the pre-season showpiece as ''unfair''.

''I'm working on our team's combinations and confidence, and I really wanted to work hard at it [against Melbourne],'' Furner said then. ''It's great to get that recognition, but I just think there still should be something like three's the limit, because it's unfair.

''I can't change that, but it should be changed for next year.''

But the Raiders' established five-eighth, Josh McCrone, says giving youngsters an opportunity can only be a positive. ''I see it more as an advantage because it should create a bit of depth for us,'' McCrone said. ''We've got the core there and still got the big fellas up front, I think it's a really good chance for these young fellas to prove themselves.''

McCrone and halves partner Sam Williams will play about 50 minutes, before young playmakers Anthony Milford and Mitch Cornish take over for the final half hour.

''I hope they don't get too much time because they might put me out of a job,'' McCrone quipped.

FRIDAY: Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders, Simonds Stadium, Geelong, 6.30pm.