As Billy Slater prepares for the final State of Origin game of his illustrious career, what can the Queensland Maroons legend share with us mere mortals about the occult art of fullback?
There’s a growing belief that 35-year-old Slater is the best fullback to have ever played the game. How’s that for a polariser - right up there with the best there’s ever been: Churchill, Langlands, Lockyer, Les Johns, Eadie, Barnes, Thornett, Carlson, McMillan and Charles “Chook” Fraser?
It can prove absolutely pointless comparing eras in an ever-changing game such as rugby league, but what we can do is analyse how Slater has grown into – again, arguably – one of the best-ever No.1s.
“The first time I played fullback was in the NRL,” Slater himself told Inside Sport magazine towards the end of the 2017 season. “It’s a position that just found me. I’d always played in the halves or at hooker growing up.
“When I went to Norths in Brisbane, the feeder club for the Melbourne Storm, I actually found myself playing in the centres. I played there and on the wing. I got the opportunity to come down to Melbourne. Robbie Ross got injured in the pre-season, therefore a spot came up at fullback. That was my position in my debut NRL game and I’ve pretty much played there ever since.”
The position found him – it’s a wonderful thought. “It’s a great position to play; it gives you so much freedom,” he gushes.
“In this day and age, where rugby league is so structured, I think fullback is the most free position you can play on the field. You’re not restricted to one side. You can roam around wherever, you can put on your own little plays, or you can chime in on others’. I feel very fortunate to be able to play that position.”