Andrew Bryan, NRL.com
He’s the reigning Dally M Medal winner, RLIF International Player of the Year, Golden Boot Award winner and now the most prolific try-scoring fullback of all time, but Billy Slater’s durability might just be the best accolade of them all.
In arguably the greatest era of fullbacks in rugby league history, Slater has surpassed and outlasted them all.
No-one has been able to match the consistency and longevity of Melbourne’s custodian.
Anthony Minichiello, Matthew Bowen, Brett Stewart, Jarryd Hayne, Josh Dugan, Kevin Locke, Nathan Gardner, Luke Burt and Darius Boyd are all quality no.1s and have given rugby league fans a lifetime of memories, but there is no doubt that Slater has eclipsed them all.
But ignore the amazing tries, dazzling leaps, courageous defence or sizzling pace, perhaps Slater’s best quality is that he is always there.
As good as this era of fullbacks has been, imagine what could have happened if we hadn’t been robbed of our stars by injury.
Minichiello missed the best part of four seasons through back injuries. Stewart missed two seasons with knee problems. Hayne and Bowen have both spent extended time on the sidelines. However, Slater has found a way to keep on playing and even with the demanding Origin and Australian duties, he rarely misses a game.
“It is the nature of the game that injuries do happen,” Minichiello told NRL.com.
“But I think the fullback role, there is a lot of work to do these days. It probably increases your chances of getting an injury.
“You look across the fullbacks. They are doing 15 hit-ups a game, and they are running for a lot of metres through the game, both with the ball and without. It is a demanding position for sure.”
It’s hard to believe Slater, Stewart and Minichiello all made their debut at fullback in the same season.
While Minichiello had already played two seasons on the wing and won a premiership with the Roosters, it was 2003 that he moved to the back, culminating in State of Origin and Australia caps. Minichiello would go on to win the Golden Boot in 2005, before suffering four long years of injury-plagued seasons.
Stewart has claimed two premierships playing at the back for Manly since his debut in ‘03, scoring an amazing 114 tries from 141 games. Who knows how many he could have scored if he hadn’t missed two seasons through injury?
Which brings us to Slater, the most prolific try-scoring fullback in premiership history with 130 tries from 206 appearances.
Asked in interviews what he is focussing on, invariably Slater talks about consistency. Reporters roll their eyes at the cliché line, not satisfied with the answer to how he continues to defy belief and re-invent what is possible on a football field.
But perhaps Slater’s consistency is the greatest secret of them all.
An article on Minichiello talking about how the role of the fullback has changed will be available on Sunday morning on NRL.com.
SPECIAL TICKET OFFER FOR PAST PLAYERS
Wests Tigers have come up with a special ticket offer for former grade players for the round 5 Men of League Heritage Round match.
Past grade players from the NSWRL, ARL, Super League and NRL eras will be able to purchase $10 tickets to the match against South Sydney on Sunday, April 1, at Allianz Stadium at 3pm.
The depth and breadth of rugby league’s community will be celebrated in Sydney this weekend with a series of education seminars, a Harmony Gala Day and city festival bringing together players, fans, volunteers, teachers and students as part of Telstra Premiership blockbusters across the city.
The Parramatta Eels and Wests Tigers will team with 200 school teachers prior to their matches at Parramatta Stadium tonight and Campbelltown Sports Stadium on Monday to host information forums to complement rugby league’s innovative education strategy.
This weekend will also see a group of 52 children and their parents from the Theodore Roosters club in Central Queensland - that was devastated by floods last year - in Sydney for a special rugby league experience, attending their first live NRL matches tonight at Parramatta Stadium and on Sunday for the Bulldogs v Knights clash at ANZ Stadium.
Bulldogs v Knights for beyondblue Cup
The incidence of depression in Australia will once again take the spotlight on Sunday when the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Newcastle Knights line up for the third instalment of the beyondblue Cup at ANZ Stadium.
The beyondblue Cup was struck in late 2009 to raise awareness of depression, anxiety and related disorders, and to reduce the associated stigma. beyondblue’s aim is to encourage people to learn more about the signs and symptoms of these mental health conditions and to seek help if they’re worried about themselves, or someone else.