How Good Is... Billy Slater
It is absurd to think Billy Slater is on the decline.
Despite plenty of armchair experts making the assumption that not only Slater, but the remainder of Melbourne's 'Big Three' in Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, are over the hill, you would have to be somewhat delusional to come to such conclusions.
Slater, who currently sits in third for most tries scored by an individual in Australian rugby league record books, isn't finished just yet. Especially when he is 11 tries away from bypassing Sea Eagles legend Steve Menzies and moving into second spot on that list, and 43 tries away from overtaking legendary winger Ken Irvine to become top dog.
Sure, 2014 wasn't the most memorable year for the Melbourne Storm but it didn't stop Slater from showcasing his talents in his 22 NRL games and three State of Origin appearances.
While a shoulder injury kept him out of Australia's Four Nations campaign, Slater is expected to be handed back the custodian role when the 2015 season rolls around, and why wouldn't he? He is still the best fullback in the game.
What made 2014 so special?
Slater is a sublime player. You know he is always going to do well for the Storm but the enormity of his impact isn't quite realised until you crunch the numbers.
Even with a dominant Kangaroos playmaker like Cronk pulling the strings and providing the bulk of the team's try assists, Slater still came up with 12 of them, and kept up his appearances past the white stripe with a dozen four-pointers of his own.
Although the Storm were kicked out of the finals series after the first week, great heights were reached by the veteran in terms of tackles breaks (92; equal 12th in the competition) and metres made. Slater's 3171 overall metres put him in the top 15 across the competition while his kick-return metres (1105 metres) propped him up to sixth in the NRL.
How can he be better in 2015?
Never known as the best defensive fullback in the game, with his attacking exploits shining over the course of his career, Slater did improve on the other side of the coin in 2014. But there is always room for improvement.
With his tackle efficiency jumping from 75.5 per cent to 78.8 in 2014, Slater still picked up 33 missed tackles – equal fifth among regular fullbacks in the NRL.
He should also start working on cutting the errors from his game. Slater ended up with a whopping 37 errors in 2014 – the fifth most of any player in the NRL. He coughed up 11 more errors than he did in 2013, a trend he'll need to turn around next season.
Which new signing will have the greatest influence on him?
Former English Super League and Challenge Cup-winning five-eighth Blake Green will prove vital for Slater and the Storm's fortunes next year.
Melbourne struggled to find a consistent five-eighth following Gareth Widdop's departure at the end of 2013. Ben Hampton, Ben Roberts and even Cameron Smith tried their best to compliment the Storm's sensational spine but it never quite clicked.
Roberts was most promising in the six jumper but has since jumped ship to the English Super League, leaving the door ajar for former Wigan Warriors pivot Green to step in and take control.
Combinations between the halves and fullback are essential, and Green should prove a vital cog for Slater to further shine.