Billy Slater will retire from all representative football at the end of this State of Origin series having been hailed by Maroons coach Kevin Walters as changing the way fullbacks play the game.
The Maroons fullback, who has played in 29 Origin matches for Queensland and 30 Tests for Australia, said it was time to hand over the baton at the end of the upcoming Origin series.
“I just feel it’s time,” Slater said.
“I’m 35 this year. This will be my 15th year for Queensland.
“I had a fair indication that the World Cup last year would be the last time I played for Australia. It’s been on my mind for a while. I always felt this would be my last Origin series.”
The 34-year-old, an integral member of Queensland’s more than decade-long dominance of Origin and two World Cup wins for Australia, revealed that Cameron Smith only let him know he’d be retiring the morning that he shocked the rugby league world. Slater spoke to Smith over the weekend to let him know of his own decision and said his Storm captain’s call on retirement was not a factor in his own decision.
Now he has turned his attention to playing in a winning series and mentoring the next generation of Maroons in the wake of the retirements of Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston.
“We say goodbye to Cam, Cooper and Johnathan who have been fantastic players for Queensland over a long period of time and have been at the centre of big moments in the last decade, but I am really excited about playing alongside some of the young guys coming through and being part of that plan to bring them along,” Slater said.
“I am going out knowing that I can contribute to the team. It would have been disappointing being selected knowing that I was past it and only being selected on my reputation. I would like to finish my representative career knowing I can make a difference.”
When asked what his legacy would be, Queensland coach Kevin Maroons stepped in to enunciate what it exactly was.
“For me Billy epitomises what State of Origin is all about. A boy from the bush [in Innisfail] makes it in the big smoke and not only does he make it, he turns the rugby league world upside down,” Walters said of Slater.
“He changed the way fullbacks play the game and for Queensland to have a player like Billy Slater over the last 15 years has been a dream for all Queenslanders.
“When you think Billy Slater you think tough, you think resilient and all the Origin things that you need to be at the level of, not just an Origin player, but one who has dominated the arena for so many years.
“Everyone remembers the Origin try Billy scored when he chipped over [the top] and all those moments. That is why kids today grow up wanting to be like Billy Slater wherever you go. He has been a phenomenon for Queensland.”
Walters said he supported Slater’s decision one hundred per cent.
“I was a little bit shocked, but I understand he can’t keep playing forever,” Walters said.
“This time last year I was nearly in tears because we didn’t have him in the team and now he gets to go out on his terms.”
Slater said he was yet to decide whether he would play on for the Storm beyond the expiry of his current contract at the end of 2018.
Storm teammate Josh Addo-Carr said he felt privileged to play with Slater in the NRL and now finally got to mark up against him on the other side with NSW.
“I just think what an honour it is to take the field with him… what an achievement with what he’s done [in Origin],” Addo-Carr told NRL.com after NSW Blues training at Coogee Oval on Tuesday.
“And there’s a certain yin and yang in the fact his last series is my first.”
Addo-Carr confessed Slater was an Origin hero of his as a young footballer watching the interstate series from his lounge room.
“I supported a lot of players but he was definitely one of them because he was such a great outside back,” Addo-Carr said.
“So to take the field with him is one thing but to play against him now is quite another. I see it as a great honour.
“When I look back in 50 years time I can say I not only played with him, I played against him.”
But now he might have to tackle him. Storm contact sessions will be nothing like the opening Origin match at the MCG on June 6 with Slater breaking up Queensland’s left touchline headed straight for Addo-Carr on the Blues left edge.
“I’ll just aim to get right around his legs. He can’t run without legs,” the 22-year-old said.
He felt Slater, at age 34, was entitled to call his own shots after a decorated career for Queensland and Australia.
“It’s a good thing for him. He’s achieved so much in football, maybe he just feels it’s time to give his body more rest and stick to club football level,” Addo-Carr said.