Don’t get me wrong, Billy Slater is arguably the best fullback of the modern era. But it’s time for Billy to put the Melbourne Storm first, and step aside.
Slater’s decline has been rapid in recent years. Back-to-back shoulder reconstructions have seen the speedster manage less than 10 NRL games in the last two seasons. While losing a player of Slater’s calibre would cripple most teams, most teams don’t have the likes of Cameron Munster sitting in reserve grade.
When you think of the Melbourne Storm, you think of the big three. Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater. Three players that work on the same wavelength, and have dominated their respective positions for years now. Each has won a Dally M, while Cronk and Slater have both picked up Clive Churchill medals. When you think of the NRL’s elite, you think of the big three.
But unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The shoulder of Billy Slater is set to drop the curtain down on the big three – or so it should.
Cameron Munster is arguably the future Maroons custodian, so holding him back would be ludicrous. A move to five-eighth for a season could do his ball-playing and defence some good, but moving to the halves hold back the development of another gun youngster.
Brodie Croft has already been called the next Cooper Cronk, but he’s the first Brodie Croft. Debuting during the Origin period last year, Croft made a real fist of his first NRL game and backed it up with an electrifying Nines campaign that saw him earn a spot in the Team of the Tournament.
To put it in simple terms, Brodie Croft is ready for first-grade. He knows it. Craig Bellamy knows it. And opposition coaches know it. If Croft isn’t playing in the NRL for Melbourne, then he could well be playing NRL for another side. With Ben Hunt departing Brisbane at the end of this season, Croft could easily step in and take the reins of Brisbane’s halfback role.
So by Billy declaring he’ll play in what appears to be a farewell season, he’s stunting the growth of Cameron Munster, and possibly costing the club a young half that could lead them into the future.
Melbourne is currently in the midst of a changing of the guard. Kevin Proctor has departed for the Gold Coast, Tohu Harris will leave at season’s end for New Zealand, Marika Koroibete has switched codes and Dale Finucane is being head-hunted hard by rivals. If the club is set to bring its new talent through, then Billy should be out the door.
While Harris and Proctor leave a large gap, Holden Cup star Joe Stimson will earn a debut at some point in 2017, another testament to the youth the Storm possess at their disposal. Fingers crossed it isn’t wasted.
I’m sorry to say it Billy, but your time is up. You’ve delivered a generation countless moments of brilliance, strength and speed. You’ve won a premiership, a World Cup, State of Origin shields and left us all wondering ‘how did he do that?’. But all good things must come to an end. Sorry Slater, it’s time to step aside.