Another massive name has been added to the NRL’s retiring class of 2018, with Melbourne Storm legend Billy Slater officially announcing he will hang up the boots at the end of the season.
The champion fullback – regarded by many as rugby league’s greatest-ever No.1 – announced his representative retirement on the eve of this year’s State of Origin series. He was named man of the match and controversially won the Wally Lewis Medal as player of the series after game three last month.
The Innisfail product turned 35 in May and will retire as one of the most decorated players of all time.
— ABC Grandstand (@abcgrandstand) August 8, 2018
“For 16 years I’ve had the pleasure to play in the NRL. However this will be my last as I’ll be retiring at season’s end,” an emotional Slater said on Wednesday.
“I feel so very lucky to have the career I have had. 18 years ago I made the decision to pack my car up and chase my dream. I’ve always felt extremely grateful and loyal to this club.
“I am proud to have helped with the development of this club to be one of Australia’s biggest sporting organisations.
“To Craig Bellamy, thanks for believing in me. Your support, guidance and care has been instrumental.
“You taught me the harder you work the luckier you get. I have no doubt my career wouldn’t have been successful or consistent if you didn’t instil that into me.
“To Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, not only have you both created opportunities for me on the field, but when your peers drive themselves to be the best and continually succeed, that’s infectious. This is why you two have had the greatest influence on my career.
“To my family, starting with my mum, dad and sister, thank you for all your support through my football life.
“To my wife Nicole, haven’t we enjoyed some great moments? But it’s the tough times that I’ve needed you the most. You’ve given me unconditional love and support.
“This game has given me everything, I am forever in debt to it. It gave me heroes as a boy and a chance to be one myself. It’s given me friendships and I feel forever in debt to our game.”
Congratulations @billyslater who has officially announced his retirement.
— NRL (@NRL) August 8, 2018
A former trackwork jockey, Slater arrived at the Storm via Brisbane Norths and made his NRL debut in the opening round of 2003. He broke into the Queensland side as a winger the following season – scoring one of Origin’s most iconic tries in just his second game – but did not earn Australian Test honours until 2008.
Slater was a brilliant but often erratic talent during the early seasons of his career, but that 2008 campaign proved a turning point. He won the Dally M Fullback of the Year, the Golden Boot and RLIF Player of the Year awards, and would have clinched the Dally M Medal if not for a suspension during the regular season.
Part of Melbourne’s 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2017 grand final-winning line-ups, last year Slater became just the second player to win two Clive Churchill Medals, having also clinched the honour in 2009.
He has played 313 games for the club and scored 187 tries – the second-highest tally in premiership history behind Ken Irvine (212). He scored less than 10 tries just once in his first 12 seasons in the NRL.
Slater played 31 Origin matches from 2004-18, featuring in eight series victories, scoring 12 tries and winning three man-of-the-match awards and two Wally Lewis Medals (2010 and 2018). His international record encompasses 27 tries in 30 Tests, including a starring role in Australia’s 2013 and 2017 World Cup triumphs.
He also won a belated Dally M Medal and a second RLIF Player of the Year award in 2011.
— NRL (@NRL) August 8, 2018
His career is intrinsically linked with the other members of Melbourne’s ‘Big Three’, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, but a significant part of Slater’s massive legacy is the manner in which he returned from career-threatening shoulder problems that restricted him to just eight first-grade appearances in 2015-16.
In 2017 Slater reclaimed his Queensland and Australian No.1 jumpers, finished seventh in the Dally M Medal, won his third Dally M Fullback of the Year gong and claimed the Churchill Medal after helping inspire the Storm’s first grand final victory in five years.
Slater has scored 16 tries in 24 matches for the Storm against the Warriors, boasting a record of 16 wins, one draw and seven losses.