Slater grateful despite missing fairytale farewell
AT least it ended on the field. That is probably the only solace Billy Slater will receive after his glittering career came to a crashing halt.
For this champion fullback did not deserve to be rubbed out of his final game for a try-saving tackle. Or worse still with a bunged shoulder. While Slater may have survived the judiciary on Tuesday night, the outcome at ANZ Stadium was far worse.
Despite Slater's career being at the mercy of three judiciary panel members, his career had already lasted longer than even some medical experts thought. Serious shoulder injuries saw Slater restricted to just eight games in two years with a badly broken body almost forcing him to a premature end in 2016.
Had he been banned, Slater could have joined the likes of fellow 300 gamers in Johnathan Thurston, Sam Thaiday, Ryan Hoffman, Luke Lewis and Chris Heighington who were farewelled on the back of a ute before kick-off.
Slater would have walked from the field feeling like he had just been run over by a truck. For even the great ones can do little without the support of their forwards.
"It's now how it's panned out, that's footy," Slater said. "We tried our best but that's the way it goes. I'm really grateful for the career I've had, the friends I've made and what rugby league has done for me.
"It taught me lots of things - selflessness, respect. I appreciate everything everyone has done for me
"We didn't help ourselves. We dropped the ball … we couldn't handle their big guys. That's footy. It's the way it went."
A game after playing arguably his most influential match, Slater was restricted to a near passenger against a Storm side who failed to gain any traction.
Last week he ran for a game high 173 metres, two line breaks, two tries and a try assists. He was so good against the Sharks that skipper Cameron Smith asked him midgame if he was certain that he wanted to retire. His return was less momentous with 132 metres from 17 runs.
His first half netted just 64 metres from nine runs. He couldn't stop a flying Latrell Mitchell for the Roosters second try while a try-saving effort on Sio Siua Taukeiaho - which was later ruled to be a dead play because Blake Ferguson had infringed earlier when he stood on the sideline - was all in vain but left Slater nursing a sore leg.
You only had to watch opposite James Tedesco's performance to identify how tough going it was for Slater. Tedesco played off the back of a strong forward pack to not only help end Slater's fairytale dream but also clinch the Kangaroos No.1 jersey which Slater has forfeited. Tedesco ran for 216 metres from 17 runs, two line break assists and two try assists.
He was greeted with boos from a large part of the 82688 fans who had little sympathy for arguably the game's best fullback's nightmare ending.
While the memory of his last outing will sting for a long, long time, it won't be how the 35-year-old is remembered.
He ends his career with every personal accolade possible. Just 12 months ago he claimed his second Clive Churchill Medal after starring in the Storm's win against North Queensland having fought back from almost career ending shoulder problems.
He finishes with 319 games, a Dally M Medal, a Golden Boot and is the only two-time winner of the Wally Lewis Medal for the best Origin player. His 190 top grade tries is second only to Ken Irvine.