The No.1 guns shooting for Slater’s green and gold mantle
IT'S the battle within the battle that's providing a mouthwatering sideshow to the NRL's qualifying final at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
James Tedesco and Valentine Holmes will go head to head in a blockbuster meeting that could decide who adopts Billy Slater's Australian No.1 jersey next month.
Holmes was compared to the champion Melbourne fullback after scoring a try and setting up three more for Cronulla against Canterbury last week.
Tedesco has modelled his own game on Slater, as he revealed to foxsports.com.au just minutes after Slater had announced his representative retirement in May.
Now the two talented custodians are neck and neck to replace their idol in the Kangaroos side for next month's tour of New Zealand.
And when the Roosters take on the Sharks on Saturday, there will be a little bit more at stake for the two men at the back.
Cooper Cronk - who has played alongside Slater for more than a decade at club and representative level - says it's no surprise most younger fullbacks show Slater traits.
And he can see a touch of Billy in both Tedesco and Holmes.
"Any time you get a pioneer or a guy who's really led his position - (Johnathan) Thurston, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater - they inspire the next generation of rugby league players," Cronk told foxsports.com.au.
"I've got no doubt there's thousands of kids every Saturday morning trying to be the next Billy Slater of the world.
"James (Tedesco) or a number of other players probably try to copy or mimic what Billy has done because he's set a precedent for a lot of players. There's probably thousands of kids across Queensland and NSW trying to do what Billy Slater does.
"There are things that Billy is great at, there's things Val is great at … there's no doubt both of them have similarities which are (they are) try scorers, set up tries, influential in the game, and that sums up why people are comparing them."
The battle of the fullbacks is the cherry on top of what will be a finals blockbuster at Allianz Stadium.
Bulldogs coach Dean Pay was so excited by what he saw from Holmes last week he likened him to the champion Slater.
Tedesco is running just as hot, ever since he starred in NSW's State of Origni victory mid-season.
And both men provide a monster headache for their opponents heading into the first week of finals.
Cronk admits the Roosters will spend plenty of time looking at Holmes in the team's video session this week.
But he knows all the research in the world might not be enough.
"I think naturally you try to find some rhythm or try to predict what they're going to do, but that's what makes some of the best players hard to play against, because they are not predictable," he said.
"They've got things in their game, strengths and things they are good at, but also they can pop up anywhere.
"Val is definitely a ball runner first, guys are creating a lot of space for him, but even when there's no space he generates quick play the balls and linebreaks through his athleticism and acceleration and speed.
"We'll do our analysis of him, we'll try to do our best."
That ability to set up tries is what's blossomed in Holmes this year.
The 21 tries scored and the 25 linebreaks are impressive, but the nine try assists is what has Cronulla most excited heading into the finals series.
"Val probably the last six weeks has started to get the fullback role down pat," Sharks skipper Paul Gallen said.
"It's been a work in progress for him for a couple of years now but he's starting to get it, he's starting to get that ball-playing right which he needs to do.
"It's great him scoring tries obviously, but I'd love him to set them up as well these days. He's going great, no doubt about that."
Tedesco might have only scored nine tries himself this season but he's directly set up 16 for the Roosters. He also has 19 linebreak assists.
But nevermind the numbers. Both men could hold the key to their side's fortunes over the coming month.
"They are both in a rich vein of form," Cronk said.
"I daresay at the top of the Roosters' and the Sharks' tip sheet this week will be the fullbacks and how we can try to minimise their influence.
"Hopefully ours work and hopefully theirs doesn't."