Billy Slater expects South Sydney to strike back hard from their form dip when they play Melbourne in Friday’s NRL blockbuster, despite missing key players Greg Inglis and John Sutton.
Game-breaker Inglis on Monday ruled out of an early return from his State of Origin III knee injury against his former club in the AAMI Park clash, while five-eighth John Sutton has joined him on Souths’ injured list.
The Rabbitohs are coming off a punishing 30-12 loss to the Cowboys – their second defeat by a low-ranked team in three weeks – while Melbourne burst back to form with their record-breaking 68-4 thrashing of Canberra.
Slater scored two of the Storm’s 12 tries which formed a stunning re-statement of their premiership credentials.
The Test fullback believes other finals-contending teams – Souths included – will also be hitting their straps with the regular season finish line just five rounds way, though the State of Origin period was especially hard for Melbourne.
“It’s a tough period because the (Storm) guys that are out are the playmakers and the guys who direct the traffic around,” said Slater.
“We’re through it now … but it’s not just us, I think you’ll find every team hitting a bit of form over the next month or so.”
Regardless of the contrasting last round form and the injuries, Slater said the second-placed Rabbitohs were still formidable opponents for fourth-placed Melbourne.
“Whether they’ve got Greg Inglis or John Sutton in their side (or not), they’ve still got the Burgess boys, young Adam Reynolds who’s playing really well and they’ve got some great outside backs,” said Slater.
“Obviously no-one likes losing, especially after they’ve been winning so consistently over the year, I’m sure they’ll be back on track.
“We’re going to have to play well to beat them.”
Slater said Souths under the tutelage of Michael Maguire, who spent five years under Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy between 2005 and 2009, wouldn’t let their season slip away.
“They’re going to bounce back,” Slater said.
“They’re a great side and they’re coached by a very knowledgeable coach and I’m sure he’s going to make sure that they turn up in a great frame of mind.”