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Bula, Billy: How Slater sparked NRL's greatest try-scoring combo

A small screen in the Fijian capital of Suva featuring Billy Slater in full flight has proven the catalyst for the most lethal tryscoring combination of the NRL era.

Storm speed demons Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr have scored tries for fun, and at a rate rarely seen in rugby league, since linking as a wing pairing four years ago.

Sunday's grand final against Penrith will be their last outing together in purple after a combined 119 tries since 2017, with Vunivalu joining the Queensland Reds and Addo-Carr bidding to return to Sydney next year.

As a wing combination only Knights mainstays Akuila Uate and James McManus (125 tries together), and Canterbury title winners Hazem El Masri and Matt Utai (121 tries) have been more prolific since 1998.

But neither were anywhere near as devastating as the Melbourne flyers, whose strike rate is trumped – only by the barest of margins – by iconic Brisbane dual internationals Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri among pairings with more than 50 combined NRL tries.

If the Storm duo can score three tries between them on Sunday they'll eclipse the strike rate of Sailor and Tuqiri and officially be the most lethal duo of the NRL era.

Averaging 15 tries each per season, Addo-Carr and Vunivalu have proven themselves as tryscoring threats few can match and far more than just the finishing flourish at the end of Melbourne's backline.  

To think that the Storm sensations were set in motion more than decade ago by one of Slater's finest hours, beamed across the South Pacific to one particular Fijian eatery.

"The first time I watched the Storm was in the 2009 grand final against the Eels," Vunivalu recalled this week.

"I was in Suva and I was walking past a restaurant and saw that the game was on.

Addo-Carr: It'll probably be my last week with Storm

"So I sat there and fell in love with the sport watching Billy Slater. I was playing rugby at the time but from that moment I would always watch them play on [the replay] on Thursday nights.

"When the Storm approached me I said to my manager, 'I am definitely going there'."

Slater was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal in a premiership that was stripped within 12 months due to salary cap breaches, while Vunivalu would sign a bargain basement Storm development deal three years later.

By 2016 he and Addo-Carr were making their NRL debuts in opposing colours.

As has been their wont ever since, both got over the stripe as Melbourne edged past Wests Tigers 19-18.

Vunivalu bagged a double, starting with a try in the first minute, while Addo-Carr scored as well for the Tigers having inked a 2017 move to Melbourne just 48 hours prior.

A premiership, two more grand finals and a truckload of tries later, the pair line up together for the last time, with Addo-Carr paying Vunivalu a weighty compliment before he switches codes.

"As an outside back he's really experienced, this is his fourth grand final," Addo-Carr said.

"In my opinion he's the best winger in the game. He can jump over people, score tries, and [is] an absolute pleasure to play alongside.

"We've got a really good bond – being both wingers – and I'd love to send him out a winner."

Talks around Addo-Carr's 2021 destination remain on hold until after Sunday's clash with Penrith.

A legend retires - Slater's career highlights

The Storm will only release him on personal grounds when they are able to secure a suitable replacement, with Canterbury joining the Tigers as suitors for the NSW and Australian flyer.

For Vunivalu, one-time inspiration turned teammate Slater has had a telling influence on his tryscoring feats.

Ahead of his last Melbourne game he paid tribute to the two stars he has shared the Storm's backfield with so often.

"I am happy to score tries and I like seeing [Addo-Carr] score them but we are competitive," Vunivalu said.

"If we are winning it doesn't matter who scores them. Josh has the speed and all the skills.

"Back home in Fiji I was a big fan of Billy Slater and he had a great try-scoring record at fullback. I have always loved how hard he worked, and on the back of that his tries would come.

"Billy worked really hard without the ball and he was loud at the back and that is what I try to do on the wing.

"It is my last game for the Storm this week so I am really excited to go out on a high in my fourth grand final. It is special.

"I am going to rugby next year with the Queensland Reds but there are no regrets at all. I will just do my best on Sunday and give back to the club."

Panthers v Storm - Grand final

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Melbourne Storm respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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