Billy the Kid has gotten old and announced his retirement.
He’s gone through many stages in his career, from the flashy youngster with speed to burn and an almost magical ability to disappear at the start of a defensive line. To a flawed genius who could pull off the spectacular to, potentially, a future immortal with a list of accomplishments that is almost as long as his list of tries scored.
From the moment he stepped into first grade, Billy was a fan favourite. Who could forget that try he scored against the Sharks on debut or that try in Origin the next year. He was the entertainer. The kid with the flashy moves. The gambler. The young man who was prepared to take the game on in order to make something happen. And the fans loved him for it. We still do.
And for a lot of players, that ability would have been enough to make a successful career out of and ride off into the sunset a multi-millionaire. Not Billy Slater. He learnt to organise the defensive line, to help guide the attack around the park, to pass and to kick and he did it all whilst maintaining an ability to make the crowd perch on the edge of their seats.
Yes, he made some famous errors. But isn’t that why we watch? To see if it comes off this time or not.
As a player, he’s proven to be a flawed genius. You could always see the wheels turning in his mind as he plotted that next move with ball in hand. Often, he was a step ahead of the game, seeming to have more time than he had the right to.
I will always remember one day when he made a line break only to be tackled and play the ball before the dummy half got into place. When asked afterwards, Cam Smith’s response was ‘sometimes (Slater’s) just too quick for everyone.’
And perhaps that is the essence of what made him such an entertainer. Sometimes he was too quick for his own teammates even. But it often worked out. The fact that he has the second-most tries in NRL history proves that.
I’m sure he will always be remembered for his combination with Smith and Cronk too. That patented move to split the markers so that Billy could burst through the line will always be theirs, no matter who copies it.
Of course, there will be a lot of articles written that will list off his impressive collection of accomplishments in the next few days, and indeed until the end of the season when he plays his final game in purple. But this writer would prefer to focus on the immeasurable joy that watching Slater play has brought to thousands over the past 16 years.
And with that, I will leave you with one final image: Billy Slater returning a kick, running at a staggered defensive line… What a sight to behold and oh, how often it ended in the spectacular.
As a fan, the only thing left to say is tanks for the memories Billy Slater.