"I’m sorry to say it Billy, but your time is up. It’s time to step aside."
Seven months ago, I wrote that Billy Slater’s time in the NRL was up, that he was holding Cameron Munster back. How wrong I was.
Round 3, 2017. Melbourne Storm host the Brisbane Broncos at AAMI Park. Billy Slater, an hour before kick-off gets shifted back to the bench as prepares to run out for his second NRL game in 670 days. Slater highlights play on the big screen as the commentators discuss Slater’s troublesome shoulder, and whether he can still handle the NRL.
It’s the 28th minute, Billy Slater rises from the bench, interchange card in hand. He’s jumping on the spot up and down, nervous, as the crowd catch wind and begin to stand and applaud the custodian.
He doesn’t produce any particularly special highlights. No tries, no assists, no linebreaks, only two tackles. But he finishes the game. Seventeen runs, 139 metres. That’s the Billy we all know. From there on, Slater continued his return to his old antics.
It wouldn’t be until his 7th game of the season, an away game against St George Illawarra, that the fullback would score his first try since his May 10th, 2015. In fact, he’d score two. Week by week, brick by brick, Slater built himself up to his regular self.
Kevvie Walters spectacularly claimed Slater’s time in the Maroon was done and dusted in late May. It was Darius Boyd’s time. But after a 28-4 loss to the Blues at Suncorp Stadium in Game I, the rugby league world called for the reinstatement of the Slater into Queensland’s number one jersey.
Walters gave in, recalling Billy, and a few weeks later Queensland had pulled off a stunning 2-1 series victory. I wrote in February Slater’s NRL career was over, and there he was, holding the State of Origin shield above his head.
September came, and saw ‘Billy the Kid’ create history as the NRL’s highest ever tryscorer in final’s games. Scoring 10 tries in his 20 games this year, Slater stands alone as the 2nd highest try scorer in NRL history, touching down 182 times in his 298 game career.
Billy Slater will run out for the sixth Grand Final of his career this Sunday, and without a contract for 2018 thus far, it could well be his last. Experts believe that if Melbourne lift the trophy, Slater will call it quits. Whether or not this is the case, Slater has left myself, and the rugby league world, mistaken.
An early favourite for the Dally M Fullback of the Year and weeks away from a Kangaroos recall for the World Cup, Billy Slater still has what it takes. After all, he is one of the best fullbacks to ever lace a boot in rugby league.
So I’m sorry Slater, you proved me wrong.