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Slater still No.1, say legends

Date

Daniel Lane

Some of league's past greats give their take on the looming battle of the thrill-a-minute No.1s in today's grand final.

Running man ... Slater.

Running man ... Slater. Photo: Getty Images

It was an innocuous question posed by a young girl at the grand final breakfast, but Melbourne fullback Billy Slater's reaction to being asked whether he or Bulldogs boom boy Ben Barba would score the most tries today indicated he had no intention of motivating his opponent with a cute reply.

With Barba's eyes squarely on him Slater baulked. He challenged the child to answer her question and even when the girl giggled ''you'' he still played it straight: ''As long as we get the win I don't care how many tries we score.''

The exchange hardly lit the fuse for fireworks this evening but some of the game's great fullbacks - Graeme Langlands, Keith Barnes, Greg Brentnall, Garry Jack and Darren Lockyer, each of them grand finalists - are adamant the fans at ANZ Stadium will see one of the most exhilarating one-on-one duels featured on grand final day.

However, the wise old heads also made it clear that despite Barba's unforgettable winter, Slater had the odds - and experience - needed to come out on top in the contest between the Storm's sorcerer and his brilliant apprentice.

Langlands, one of rugby league's eight Immortals, summed up the contest succinctly enough when he said it was ''very, very, very exciting''.

"I think it will be a great match-up,'' he said. ''They're two great players so the result of the game can certainly be on either one of them.''

''I'm not feeling too nervous at the moment; just enjoying it and taking it all in …'' - Ben Barba

Greg Brentnall is a former Bulldog now employed as an official for the Storm. He introduced the AFL-style mark to defuse the high ball as a member of the legendary 1980 Canterbury team known as ''The Entertainers'' and he showed as steady a nerve when asked to rate Barba against Slater. He maintained there was a long way to go before the code's latest whizz kid could be considered Slater's equal.

''It's too hard to compare Billy and Ben at this stage of their careers,'' he said. ''I used to love watching Ewan McGrady [the 1991 Rothmans medallist] play at Canterbury, but you couldn't compare him to [former champion Bulldogs halfback] Steve Mortimer at that level because [Mortimer] played consistently and he continued to excite in first grade for a number of years. I hope he emulates what Billy has achieved. I genuinely get excited when I see Ben play. Whenever he touches the ball everyone is on the edge of their seat and it's enormous; really exciting. He's a wonderful attacking player but he's been put under pressure before and faltered under the high ball. He hasn't got the all-round game Billy has, like his defence and being able to direct play from behind the line. Billy also stops as many tries as he scores. Everything I've mentioned comes with experience. Billy was a freakish talent like Ben when he first came along 10 years ago but he's developed into a great player. The best I've seen in my time.''

''We work as a unit, we don't narrow it down to two or three players. Everyone's got a job in our side and when everybody does their job it makes everyone else's job easier.'' - Billy Slater

Balmain's Garry Jack, whose last-gasp defence was tougher to crack than a walnut and whose son Kieren played in yesterday's AFL grand final for the Sydney Swans, suggested Canterbury's hopes of victory depended on Barba. ''I think Canterbury rely more on Ben Barba than Melbourne do Billy,'' he said. ''If Barba plays well there's a big chance Canterbury are going to win so Melbourne need to nullify him because his form has been that good all year. He wouldn't be out of place in the Queensland or Australian teams, although I wouldn't pick him ahead of Billy [for the October 13 Test].''

At the risk of destroying the grand final as a spectacle, Jack said the key to diluting both men's potency was to restrict their opportunities to inject themselves into the action. ''You can't give them any room,'' he said. ''The kick and chase needs to be excellent, put it to the sideline and have the scrum … you have to negate their impact because they're at their best from broken play. Billy Slater is very courageous, he'll come into the middle of the ruck and get the ball. The opposition needs to be very tight in its defensive pattern to stop him. It's not easy. Ben Barba is more broken play, Billy can be more direct up the middle of the ruck. Barba has been a big improver over the last couple of years. He's a match-winner and attacks just like Billy.''

''I'm just trying to do the best for my team whether it's running the length [of the field] or 10m. If they're happy I'm happy.'' - Barba

Balmain legend Keith Barnes, who was dubbed ''Golden Boots'' in the 1950s and '60s because of his ability to boot incredible goals, said the key to the dynamic duo was in their feet … and the ''twitch'' fibres in their leg muscles.

"They have the most important asset in the game,'' said Barnes. ''Both of them have an abundance of speed and they have the ability to capitalise on any mistake by the opposition and to make the break themselves. One play from them can change the trend of the game and they're going to play a major role in the grand final. Whether it is an attacking or defensive play… I'm certain one of them will have a major impact on the game."

''I don't think about [my injured knee] going into a game, I don't think about it during a game. It's not an issue for me. - Slater

Darren Lockyer, who started his top-grade career as the fullback for Brisbane before establishing himself as one of the code's great five-eighths, admitted he was in awe of the form Slater had produced since the Origin series despite a lingering injury to his left knee. ''He's been outstanding considering the injury he's had to deal with,'' said Lockyer. ''He's played on one leg for a number of weeks but he's getting better every week … This contest doesn't get any better. Slater and Barba are both very similar players, but Billy has a lot more experience in big games. Ben is a great player, he's similar to Jarryd Hayne in '09 when he lit the code up. He can sniff out an opportunity. Slater has that skill, but the other thing Slater has is he can also create opportunities with his passing game. Look, they're both fantastic but I played footy with Billy and I know what he's capable of.''

NRL Season 2015

Round 1
Thu, 05 MarTimes shown AEDT
BRI 6vs SOU 36 Report Stats
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
PAR 42vs MAN 12 Report Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
NEW 24vs NZW 14 Report Stats
GCT 18vs WST 19 Report Stats
NQL 4vs SYD 28 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 24vs CBY 18 Report Stats
CRO 20vs CBR 24 Report Stats
Mon, 09 MarTimes shown AEDT
STG 4vs MEL 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
CBY 32vs PAR 12 Report Stats
CRO 2vs BRI 10 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 40vs GCT 0 Report Stats
MAN 24vs MEL 22 Stats
NQL 14vs NEW 16 Report Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 34vs SYD 26 Stats
CBR 6vs NZW 18 Report Stats
Mon, 16 MarTimes shown AEDT
WST 22vs STG 4 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
MAN 12vs CBY 16 Report Stats
BRI 44vs NQL 22 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 29vs PAR 16 Report Stats
CBR 20vs STG 22 Report Stats
MEL 36vs CRO 18 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 20vs WST 6 Report Stats
GCT 18vs NEW 20 Report Stats
Mon, 23 MarTimes shown AEDT
SYD 20vs PEN 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
PAR 29vs SOU 16 Report Stats
WST 24vs CBY 25 Report Stats
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
NEW 26vs PEN 14 Report Stats
CRO 22vs GCT 24 Report Stats
STG 12vs MAN 4 Report Stats
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 16vs BRI 24 Report Stats
SYD 34vs CBR 6 Report Stats
Mon, 30 MarTimes shown AEDT
NQL 18vs MEL 17 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
CBY 17vs SOU 18 Report Stats
GCT 16vs BRI 26 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MAN 16vs CBR 29 Report Stats
NEW 0vs STG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD 12vs CRO 20 Report Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
PAR 6vs WST 22 Report Stats
MEL 30vs NZW 14 Report Stats
PEN 10vs NQL 30 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 22vs SYD 18 Report Stats
CRO 22vs NEW 6 Report Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
PAR 16vs GCT 38 Report Stats
NZW 32vs WST 22 Report Stats
PEN 22vs MAN 12 Report Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
CBR 10vs MEL 14 Report Stats
STG 31vs CBY 6 Report Stats
Mon, 13 AprTimes shown AEST
SOU 12vs NQL 30 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY 28vs MAN 16 Report Stats
STG 12vs BRI 10 Report Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
GCT 32vs PEN 6 Report Stats
NQL 28vs NZW 24 Report Stats
MEL 17vs SYD 16 Report Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
WST 22vs CBR 30 Report Stats
NEW 22vs PAR 28 Report Stats
Mon, 20 AprTimes shown AEST
CRO 18vs SOU 10 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY 14vs WST 38 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
NZW 28vs GCT 32 Report Stats
NEW 24vs NQL 26 Report Stats
SYD 12vs STG 14 Report Stats
MEL 10vs MAN 12 Stats
BRI 28vs PAR 16 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
PEN 26vs CRO 18 Stats
SOU 22vs CBR 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI 8vs PEN 5 Report Stats
SYD 36vs WST 4 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
CBR 56vs GCT 16 Stats
CRO 16vs NZW 20 Stats
NQL 23vs CBY 16 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
MAN 30vs NEW 10 Stats
PAR 10vs MEL 28 Stats
Mon, 11 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU 16vs STG 10 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CBY 10vs SYD 24 Stats
NQL 31vs BRI 20 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
PAR 13vs NZW 17 Report Stats
GCT 22vs CRO 23 Report Stats
MEL 16vs SOU 12 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
STG 32vs CBR 18 Report Stats
NEW 22vs WST 12 Stats
Mon, 18 MayTimes shown AEST
MAN 10vs PEN 11 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU 14vs PAR 12 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
WST 0vs NQL 8 Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CBR 34vs CBY 41 Stats
Mon, 25 MayTimes shown AEST
NEW 18vs BRI 31 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
PEN 20vs PAR 26 Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
GCT 16vs SOU 22 Report Stats
CBR 12vs BRI 24 Stats
NQL 18vs MAN 14 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
NZW 24vs NEW 20 Stats
STG 42vs CRO 6 Stats
Mon, 01 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD 24vs MEL 2 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI 44vs MAN 10 Report Stats
WST 20vs GCT 27 Report Stats
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW 22vs CBR 44 Stats
SOU 36vs NZW 4 Stats
PEN 0vs MEL 20 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
CRO 10vs SYD 4 Stats
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
CBY 29vs STG 16 Stats
PAR 30vs NQL 36 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
WST 34vs SOU 6 Report Stats
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW 21vs SYD 25 Report Stats
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
GCT 28vs CBY 14 Stats
Mon, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL 22vs PAR 26 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
MAN 30vs WST 20 Report Stats
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CBR 20vs NQL 21 Report Stats
GCT 14vs NZW 36 Report Stats
CBY 24vs PEN 12 Report Stats
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW 28vs CRO 30 Report Stats
MEL 12vs BRI 14 Report Stats
Mon, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
STG 14vs SYD 19 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI 44vs NEW 22 Stats
SOU 20vs MAN 8 Report Stats
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW 30vs CBR 8 Stats
NQL 18vs CRO 24 Report Stats
PAR 16vs STG 12 Report Stats
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD 20vs GCT 10 Stats
WST 12vs PEN 35 Stats
Mon, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
CBY 20vs MEL 4 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN 20vs SOU 6 Report Stats
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
STG 12vs NQL 18 Report Stats
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN 28vs CRO 16 Report Stats
Mon, 06 JulTimes shown AEST
WST 16vs PAR 28 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR 36vs NEW 22 Stats
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN 4vs SYD 24 Stats
CBY 8vs BRI 16 Stats
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW 28vs MEL 14 Report Stats
CRO 28vs STG 8 Report Stats
Mon, 13 JulTimes shown AEST
GCT 6vs MAN 38 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
PAR 4vs CBY 28 Report Stats
MEL 52vs PEN 10 Report Stats
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR 20vs CRO 21 Report Stats
NEW 30vs GCT 2 Report Stats
STG 8vs SOU 24 Report Stats
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD 24vs NZW 0 Report Stats
BRI 42vs WST 16 Stats
Mon, 20 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN 12vs NQL 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
BRI 34vs GCT 0 Report Stats
WST 8vs SYD 33 Stats
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW 12vs MAN 32 Stats
MEL 22vs STG 4 Stats
SOU 52vs NEW 6 Stats
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN 24vs CBR 34 Report Stats
CBY 16vs CRO 18 Report Stats
Mon, 27 JulTimes shown AEST
NQL 46vs PAR 4 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD 38vs CBY 28 Report Stats
WST 34vs MEL 16 Report Stats
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW 14vs CRO 18 Stats
NQL 32vs CBR 24 Stats
MAN 44vs BRI 14 Stats
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
STG 46vs NEW 24 Stats
SOU 20vs PEN 16 Report Stats
Mon, 03 AugTimes shown AEST
GCT 24vs PAR 14 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 16vs CBY 18 Report Stats
MAN 28vs SOU 8 Stats
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW 0vs STG 36 Stats
CRO 30vs NQL 18 Stats
PAR 10vs PEN 4 Stats
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 36vs GCT 14 Report Stats
NEW 22vs SYD 38 Report Stats
Mon, 10 AugTimes shown AEST
CBR 18vs WST 20 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Thu, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
NQL 18vs SOU 31 Stats
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 32vs STG 6 Report Stats
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
WST 18vs NEW 24 Stats
PEN 24vs NZW 10 Stats
SYD 28vs PAR 18 Stats
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
CBR 24vs MAN 26 Stats
CBY 36vs GCT 14 Report Stats
Mon, 17 AugTimes shown AEST
CRO 2vs MEL 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 24
Thu, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
STG 19vs PEN 12 Report Stats
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
SOU 18vs CBY 32 Report Stats
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
CRO 40vs WST 18 Report Stats
NZW 16vs NQL 50 Report Stats
SYD 12vs BRI 10 Report Stats
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
GCT 28vs CBR 12 Stats
MAN 16vs PAR 20 Report Stats
Mon, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 6vs NEW 20 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 25
Thu, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
SOU 12vs BRI 47 Report Stats
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
MAN 0vs SYD 0 Stats
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
PAR ($2.55)vs CRO ($1.53) 15:00Pirtek
NEW ($3.20)vs CBY ($1.36) 17:30HS
MEL ($1.73)vs NQL ($2.15) 19:30AAMI
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
WST ($1.42)vs NZW ($2.95) 14:00CSS
GCT ($3.00)vs STG ($1.40) 16:00Cbus
Mon, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
CBR ($1.55)vs PEN ($2.50) 19:30GIO
View All Fixtures
Round 26
Thu, 03 SepTimes shown AEST
BRI ($1.50)vs MEL ($2.50) 19:45SUN
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD ($1.36)vs SOU ($3.00) 19:45AS
Sat, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
PEN ($1.47)vs NEW ($2.55) 15:00Pepp
STG ($1.57)vs WST ($2.30) 17:30ANZ
NQL ($1.12)vs GCT ($6.00) 19:301300
Sun, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
PAR ($1.87)vs CBR ($1.87) 14:00Pirtek
CRO ($1.87)vs MAN ($1.87) 16:00Rem
CBY ($1.08)vs NZW ($7.00) 18:30ANZ
View All Fixtures

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