Slater tips Drinkwater to make a splash
Losing Kalyn Ponga to Newcastle has to be one of North Queensland's biggest regrets. But Maroons legend Billy Slater believes the Cowboys might have found the next best thing.
Drinkwater, 22, is set to make his Cowboys debut this weekend against the Dragons after signing with North Queensland on Monday on a two-and-a-half year contract.
The talented fullback was billed as the first choice replacement for retired Melbourne champion Slater after serving his apprenticeship through the Storm system.
An unfortunate pectoral injury in a pre-season trial match, against the Cowboys, sidelined him for the first half of the season which allowed Jahrome Hughes and Ryan Papenhuyzen to cement their spot at Melbourne.
Slater has been a huge supporter of Drinkwater's potential and admitted the Central Coast junior could be a future NRL star.
The former Queensland and Australian No.1 said Drinkwater's recent recruitment to the Cowboys could now help the club in the same way Ponga has changed the fortunes of Newcastle.
"He could really be one of the stars of the game in the future," Slater said.
"I have a really high opinion of him.
"He can be as important a signing to the Cowboys as Kalyn Ponga was for the Knights, that's my opinion of him.
"It's nearly exactly what the Cowboys need."
North Queensland have struggled to find a dominant fullback in recent years through injuries and off-field incidents.
Slater said Drinkwater's combination with Cowboys skipper Michael Morgan could be a real threat of the competition.
"I've got no doubt they could both be a threat in the competition," he said.
"One thing I know with Drinky is that he'll attack every opportunity and he's the type of player who will create certain opportunities for his outside men.
"He's got that ability to run with aloofness and create something out of nothing.
"I'm sad to see Drinky go, but it's one of those situations where he's ready to play first grade and he needs to be playing first grade to continue his development."
Speaking for the first time since becoming a Cowboy, Drinkwater this week praised his former mentor Slater and said he hoped to eventually form a successful combination with Morgan.
"It was massive being able to train with Melbourne," Drinkwater said.
"Before heading down there, I thought I knew the game, then I arrived there and realised I had no idea about rugby league.
"(Slater's) biggest thing was the effort areas.
"His communication skills at fullback, getting the defensive line set with numbers correct on either side (of the play the ball) and making sure to do your best to catch the ball on the full.
"I'd want to build a strong combination with anyone in the spine but it would be something handy (to build a combination with Morgan) once we learn how each other play and having a few little trick plays.
"First of all I just need to get a settled combination with him and not try anything too out of the ordinary."
The young gun said his goal for the rest of the season was to "play consistent football".
"As a young player in the NRL, we tend to get a bit inconsistent at times within the game and week-to-week grind," he said.
"Just doing the little things well and more consistent is a goal of mine for the rest of the season."