Billy Slater

Updated

Suzuki is proud to have arguably the finest rugby league player in the world as one of its brand ambassadors.

Billy Slater’s enormous talent has allowed him to achieve almost every conceivable goal achievable in his chosen field – two premierships, five State of Origin series wins, three club best and fairest awards, 14 Test caps, and the coveted Golden Boot Award as the Rugby League Player of the Year.

And in season 2011 he capped it off with the league's highest individual honour - winner of the Dally M Medal for the game's best & fairest player of the year.

He is regarded by commentators around the world as the finest full back of any era and some are now pondering if he might be the greatest player the game has seen.

And it could have been that this ornament to the game was lost to the sport of kings.

Like most Queensland youngsters, he grew up with a love for the game passed on by his parents and nurtured in the annual State of Origin matches against New South Wales.

Treasured photos from the Slater family album show a pint-sized Billy running the ball for Innisfail Brothers’ under-8s against kids head and shoulders above him.

However, a determined young Billy quit under-14s football for pony club after getting his first paid job as a track work rider and being given a broken-down racehorse.

Football took a back seat to track work, leading him to Gai Waterhouse’s stables where he worked for six months.

When his dreams of winning the jockey’s premiership were lost to his increasing size and strength, Slater returned home only to find his club couldn’t field a team .

It took a phone call to his uncle to call in a favour at Brisbane Norths to get Billy another run on the park, with the offer of a trial two days later.

He drove a beat-up car 1700km, arriving the night before. Despite the lack of preparation, he did enough that day to convince then Storm coach Mark Murray to give Slater a spot in Norths’ under-19 squad.

After a season in the juniors, Slater and a dozen other Devils youngsters were invited to train with Melbourne under new coach Craig Bellamy.

"Billy was different to a lot of kids that come into the game," Bellamy remembered of his introduction to Slater.

"He was missed by the recruitment scouts, he had to break down some doors, and he had to work for everything he got. It showed in his hunger to succeed."

It was the fighter's attitude that Bellamy loved most about Slater and it wasn't until he let him off the leash in a low-key trial against a Victorian representative side and the fullback scored five tries that he realised what a talent had literally fallen into his lap.

Slater made his debut in round 1 of 2003 and has been a fixture for the Storm ever since. In nearly 200 games he has racked up a record 117 tries and become the focus of Storm fans around the country.

Watch a Storm game at AAMI Park, and you can feel the palpable excitement when Slater fields the ball near his own line.

His ability to hit the clearing kick at full pace, or scoop the low grubber off the turf, then head off on one of his customary dashes through groping defenders may cause heartburn in the coach’s box, but lift the noise level to new heights.

Throughout he has never lost his boyish charm and now legendary humble nature that has won rugby league numerous fans in the heartland of AFL.

"I feel very fortunate because I am part of three great sides (Melbourne, Queensland and Australia) and those three great sides have given me the opportunity to become the player I have.

"If it wasn't for each and every one of the players who played in those sides and each and every member of the coaching staff, I wouldn't be where I am."

Slater and wife Nicole love their Kizashi Sport AWD.

“It’s such a smooth ride, so quiet and refined. Everyone we take for a ride in it can’t believe how good a car it is when we tell them price.

“The Kizashi looks fantastic and it’s got so many extras built in. Personally, I really like the heated seats; they help make the trip home from a tough training session a little bit easier,” he laughs.

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