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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 6 vs SOU 36 Stats
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
PAR 42 vs MAN 12 Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
NEW 24 vs NZW 14 Stats
GCT 18 vs WST 19 Stats
NQL 4 vs SYD 28 Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 24 vs CBY 18 Stats
CRO 20 vs CBR 24 Stats
Mon, 09 MarTimes shown AEDT
STG 4 vs MEL 12 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
CBY 32 vs PAR 12 Stats
CRO 2 vs BRI 10 Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 40 vs GCT Stats
MAN 24 vs MEL 22 Stats
NQL 14 vs NEW 16 Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 34 vs SYD 26 Stats
CBR 6 vs NZW 18 Stats
Mon, 16 MarTimes shown AEDT
WST 22 vs STG 4 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
MAN 12 vs CBY 16 Stats
BRI 44 vs NQL 22 Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 29 vs PAR 16 Stats
CBR 20 vs STG 22 Stats
MEL 36 vs CRO 18 Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 20 vs WST 6 Stats
GCT 18 vs NEW 20 Stats
Mon, 23 MarTimes shown AEDT
SYD 20 vs PEN 12 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
PAR 29 vs SOU 16 Stats
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
NEW 26 vs PEN 14 Stats
CRO 22 vs GCT 24 Stats
STG 12 vs MAN 4 Stats
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 16 vs BRI 24 Stats
SYD 34 vs CBR 6 Stats
Mon, 30 MarTimes shown AEDT
NQL 18 vs MEL 17 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
CBY 17 vs SOU 18 Stats
GCT 16 vs BRI 26 Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MAN 16 vs CBR 29 Stats
NEW vs STG 13 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD 12 vs CRO 20 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
PAR 6 vs WST 22 Stats
MEL 30 vs NZW 14 Stats
PEN 10 vs NQL 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 22 vs SYD 18 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
PAR 16 vs GCT 38 Stats
NZW 32 vs WST 22 Stats
PEN 22 vs MAN 12 Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
CBR 10 vs MEL 14 Stats
STG 31 vs CBY 6 Stats
Mon, 13 AprTimes shown AEST
SOU 12 vs NQL 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY 28 vs MAN 16 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
GCT 32 vs PEN 6 Stats
NQL 28 vs NZW 24 Stats
MEL 17 vs SYD 16 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
WST 22 vs CBR 30 Stats
NEW 22 vs PAR 28 Stats
Mon, 20 AprTimes shown AEST
CRO 18 vs SOU 10 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY 14 vs WST 38 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
NZW 28 vs GCT 32 Stats
NEW 24 vs NQL 26 Stats
SYD 12 vs STG 14 Stats
MEL 10 vs MAN 12 Stats
BRI 28 vs PAR 16 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
PEN 26 vs CRO 18 Stats
SOU 22 vs CBR 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs PEN 19:35SUN
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
CBR vs GCT 15:00GIO Stadium
CRO vs NZW 17:30Remondis Stadium
NQL vs CBY 19:301300 Smiles Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
MAN vs NEW 14:00BO
PAR vs MEL 16:00Pirtek Stadium
Mon, 11 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU vs STG 19:00ANZ
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CBY vs SYD 19:35ANZ
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
PAR vs NZW 15:00Pirtek Stadium
GCT vs CRO 17:30Cbus Super Stadium
MEL vs SOU 19:30AAMI
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
STG vs CBR 14:00WIN
NEW vs WST 16:00HS
Mon, 18 MayTimes shown AEST
MAN vs PEN 19:00BO
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU vs PAR 19:45ANZ
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
WST vs NQL 19:30CSS
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CBR vs CBY 16:00GIO Stadium
Mon, 25 MayTimes shown AEST
NEW vs BRI 19:00HS
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
PEN vs PAR 19:45Pepper Stadium
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
GCT vs SOU 15:00Cbus Super Stadium
CBR vs BRI 17:30GIO Stadium
NQL vs MAN 19:301300 Smiles Stadium
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
NZW vs NEW 14:00MSS
STG vs CRO 16:00Jubilee Oval
Mon, 01 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs MEL 19:00AS
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs MAN 19:35SUN
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW vs CBR 15:00HS
SOU vs NZW 17:30nib Stadium
PEN vs MEL 19:30Pepper Stadium
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
CRO vs SYD 16:00Remondis Stadium
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
CBY vs STG 16:00ANZ
PAR vs NQL 19:00Pirtek Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
WST vs SOU 19:45ANZ
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW vs SYD 18:00MSS
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
GCT vs CBY 16:00Cbus Super Stadium
Mon, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs PAR 19:00AAMI
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
MAN vs WST 19:45BO
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CBR vs NQL 15:00GIO Stadium
GCT vs NZW 17:30Cbus Super Stadium
CBY vs PEN 19:30ANZ
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW vs CRO 14:00HS
MEL vs BRI 16:00AAMI
Mon, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
STG vs SYD 19:00AS
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs NEW 19:35SUN
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW vs CBR 15:00MSS
NQL vs CRO 17:301300 Smiles Stadium
PAR vs STG 19:30Pirtek Stadium
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs GCT 14:00AS
WST vs PEN 16:00VAS
Mon, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
CBY vs MEL 19:00Belmore Sports Ground
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN vs SOU 19:45Pepper Stadium
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
STG vs NQL 19:30WIN
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN vs CRO 16:00BO
Mon, 06 JulTimes shown AEST
WST vs PAR 19:00ANZ
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR vs NEW 19:45GIO Stadium
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN vs SYD 17:30Pepper Stadium
CBY vs BRI 19:30ANZ
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW vs MEL 14:00MSS
CRO vs STG 16:00Remondis Stadium
Mon, 13 JulTimes shown AEST
GCT vs MAN 19:00Cbus Super Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
PAR vs CBY 19:35ANZ
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR vs CRO 15:00GIO Stadium
NEW vs GCT 17:30HS
STG vs SOU 19:30SCG
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NZW 14:00AS
BRI vs WST 16:00SUN
Mon, 20 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN vs NQL 19:00BO
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
BRI vs GCT 19:35SUN
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW vs MAN 15:00MSS
SOU vs NEW 17:30ANZ
MEL vs STG 19:30AAMI
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN vs CBR 14:00Pepper Stadium
CBY vs CRO 16:00Belmore Sports Ground
Mon, 27 JulTimes shown AEST
NQL vs PAR 19:001300 Smiles Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Thu, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW vs CRO 22:00MSS
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
NQL vs CBR 00:001300 Smiles Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Thu, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW vs STG 22:00MSS
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CBY 00:00SUN
PAR vs PEN 00:30TIO
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Thu, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STG 00:00SUN
View All Fixtures
Round 24
Wed, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW vs NQL 22:00MSS
Thu, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
STG vs PEN 00:00WIN
View All Fixtures
Round 25
Thu, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
PAR vs CRO 00:00Pirtek Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 26
Thu, 03 SepTimes shown AEST
BRI vs MEL 00:00SUN
View All Fixtures
NRL Ladder 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D Pts
St George-Illawarra Dragons 8 6 2 0 12
Brisbane Broncos 8 6 2 0 12
Melbourne Storm 8 5 3 0 10
North Queensland Cowboys 8 5 3 0 10
Wests Tigers 8 4 4 0 8
South Sydney Rabbitohs 8 4 4 0 8
Gold Coast Titans 8 4 4 0 8
Penrith Panthers 8 4 4 0 8
View all
 
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