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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 2014

Round 1
Thu, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 28 vs SYD 8 Report Stats
Fri, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 12 vs BRI 18 Stats
Sat, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 30 vs NEW 8 Report Stats
MAN 22 vs MEL 23 Report Stats
NQL 28 vs CAN 22 Report Stats
Sun, 09 MarTimes shown AEDT
STG 44 vs WES 24 Report Stats
PAR 36 vs NZW 16 Report Stats
Mon, 10 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRO 12 vs GCT 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
MAN 14 vs SOU 12 Report Stats
BRI 16 vs NQL 12 Report Stats
Sat, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 12 vs STG 31 Report Stats
MEL 18 vs PEN 17 Report Stats
SYD 56 vs PAR 4 Report Stats
Sun, 16 MarTimes shown AEDT
GCT 12 vs WES 42 Report Stats
NEW 20 vs CAN 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 42 vs CRO 4 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
WES 25 vs SOU 16 Report Stats
BRI 26 vs SYD 30 Report Stats
Sat, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 18 vs BUL 16 Report Stats
CRO 12 vs STG 14 Report Stats
NQL 16 vs NZW 20 Report Stats
Sun, 23 MarTimes shown AEDT
MAN 22 vs PAR 18 Report Stats
CAN 12 vs GCT 24 Stats
Mon, 24 MarTimes shown AEDT
MEL 28 vs NEW 20 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
SYD vs MAN 8 Report Stats
STG 20 vs BRI 36 Report Stats
Sat, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 42 vs WES 18 Report Stats
PAR 32 vs PEN 16 Report Stats
BUL 40 vs MEL 12 Report Stats
Sun, 30 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 18 vs CAN 30 Report Stats
NEW 30 vs CRO Report Stats
Mon, 31 MarTimes shown AEDT
GCT 13 vs NQL 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
SYD 8 vs BUL 9 Report Stats
BRI 18 vs PAR 25 Report Stats
Sat, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
CRO 37 vs NZW 6 Report Stats
PEN 12 vs CAN 6 Report Stats
STG 6 vs SOU 26 Report Stats
Sun, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL 26 vs GCT 28 Report Stats
WES 34 vs MAN 18 Report Stats
Mon, 07 AprTimes shown AEST
NQL 28 vs NEW 2 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
PEN 2 vs SOU 18 Report Stats
GCT 12 vs BRI 8 Report Stats
Sat, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
CAN 12 vs NEW 26 Report Stats
PAR 14 vs SYD 12 Report Stats
WES 16 vs NQL 4 Report Stats
Sun, 13 AprTimes shown AEST
NZW 20 vs BUL 21 Report Stats
MAN 24 vs CRO 4 Report Stats
Mon, 14 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL 28 vs STG 24 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
SOU 14 vs BUL 15 Report Stats
NEW 6 vs BRI 32 Report Stats
MAN 26 vs NQL 21 Report Stats
Sat, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
STG 20 vs NZW 10 Report Stats
CRO 18 vs SYD 24 Report Stats
Sun, 20 AprTimes shown AEST
CAN 24 vs MEL 22 Report Stats
Mon, 21 AprTimes shown AEST
PAR 18 vs WES 21 Report Stats
PEN 14 vs GCT 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STG 14 vs SYD 34 Report Stats
MEL 10 vs NZW 16 Report Stats
BRI 26 vs SOU 28 Report Stats
Sat, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
CRO 24 vs PEN 20 Report Stats
NQL 42 vs PAR 14 Report Stats
BUL 16 vs NEW 12 Report Stats
Sun, 27 AprTimes shown AEST
MAN 54 vs CAN 18 Report Report Stats
WES 6 vs GCT 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 30 vs WES 6 Report Stats
NQL 27 vs BRI 14 Report Stats
Sat, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
NZW 54 vs CAN 12 Report Stats
GCT 18 vs SOU 40 Report Stats
MEL 22 vs MAN 19 Report Stats
Sun, 11 MayTimes shown AEST
NEW 10 vs PEN 32 Report Stats
STG 6 vs BUL 38 Report Stats
Mon, 12 MayTimes shown AEST
PAR 42 vs CRO 24 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU 14 vs MEL 27 Report Stats
BRI 22 vs GCT 8 Report Stats
Sat, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
PAR 36 vs STG Report Stats
CRO 20 vs WES 22 Report Stats
NQL 42 vs SYD 10 Report Stats
Sun, 18 MayTimes shown AEST
CAN 20 vs PEN 26 Report Stats
BUL 16 vs NZW 12 Report Stats
Mon, 19 MayTimes shown AEST
MAN 15 vs NEW 14 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
BUL 12 vs SYD 32 Report Stats
Sat, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
GCT 16 vs NZW 24 Report Stats
WES 14 vs BRI 16 Report Stats
Sun, 25 MayTimes shown AEST
CAN 42 vs NQL 12 Report Stats
Mon, 26 MayTimes shown AEST
CRO vs SOU 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
PEN 38 vs PAR 12 Report Stats
Sat, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 26 vs CAN 12 Report Stats
NQL 22 vs MEL Report Stats
Sun, 01 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW 38 vs NEW 18 Report Stats
BRI 36 vs MAN 10 Report Stats
Mon, 02 JunTimes shown AEST
SOU 29 vs STG 10 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
MAN 32 vs BUL 10 Report Stats
PAR 18 vs NQL 16 Report Stats
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GCT 14 vs PEN 36 Report Stats
STG 30 vs CRO Report Stats
SOU 34 vs NZW 18 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW 20 vs WES 23 Report Stats
MEL 12 vs SYD 32 Report Stats
Mon, 09 JunTimes shown AEST
CAN 4 vs BRI 28 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
SOU 32 vs WES 10 Report Stats
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
PEN 18 vs STG 14 Report Stats
SYD 29 vs NEW 12 Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
BUL 12 vs PAR 22 Report Stats
Mon, 16 JunTimes shown AEST
GCT 20 vs MEL 24 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAN 14 vs BUL 22 Report Stats
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW 19 vs BRI 10 Report Stats
CRO vs MAN 26 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL 46 vs PAR 20 Report Stats
GCT 18 vs STG 19 Report Stats
Mon, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
NEW 36 vs NQL 28 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
MAN 24 vs SYD 16 Report Stats
BRI 22 vs CRO 24 Report Stats
Sat, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
WES 19 vs CAN 18 Report Report Stats
NQL 20 vs SOU 18 Report Stats
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
NZW 30 vs PEN 20 Report Stats
PAR 10 vs NEW 16 Report Stats
Mon, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
STG 24 vs MEL 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
BUL 23 vs MAN 16 Report Stats
Sat, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
STG 27 vs NQL 24 Report Stats
SYD 28 vs CRO 30 Report Stats
Sun, 06 JulTimes shown AEST
WES 10 vs PEN 26 Report Stats
Mon, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
SOU 10 vs GCT 14 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
MAN 40 vs WES 8 Report Stats
Sat, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW 48 vs PAR Report Stats
MEL 4 vs BUL 6 Report Stats
Sun, 13 JulTimes shown AEST
GCT 20 vs CAN 36 Report Stats
CRO 18 vs NEW 31 Report Stats
Mon, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN 35 vs BRI 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
CRO 18 vs NQL 36 Report Stats
PAR 12 vs SOU 32 Report Stats
Sat, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD 32 vs PEN 12 Report Stats
MEL 28 vs CAN 14 Report Stats
BRI 28 vs NZW 22 Report Stats
Sun, 20 JulTimes shown AEST
NEW 8 vs GCT 22 Report Stats
WES 46 vs BUL 18 Report Stats
Mon, 21 JulTimes shown AEST
STG 12 vs MAN 21 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
NEW 16 vs SYD 12 Report Stats
BRI 8 vs MEL 30 Stats
Sat, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN 16 vs CRO 18 Report Stats
GCT 18 vs PAR 24 Stats
BUL 12 vs NQL 20 Report Stats
Sun, 27 JulTimes shown AEST
NZW 12 vs MAN 22 Report Stats
WES 12 vs STG 28 Stats
Mon, 28 JulTimes shown AEST
CAN 18 vs SOU 34 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
MAN 16 vs BRI 4 Report Stats
BUL 16 vs PEN 22 Stats
Sat, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
CRO 12 vs PAR 32 Report Stats
NQL 28 vs GCT 8 Stats
SYD 30 vs STG 22 Stats
Sun, 03 AugTimes shown AEST
CAN 18 vs NZW 54 Stats
SOU 50 vs NEW 10 Stats
Mon, 04 AugTimes shown AEST
WES 6 vs MEL 28 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
SOU 23 vs MAN 4 Report Stats
BRI 41 vs BUL 10 Report Stats
Sat, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
NEW 32 vs MEL 30 Report Stats
NQL 64 vs WES 6 Report Stats
PAR 18 vs CAN 10 Report Stats
Sun, 10 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW 16 vs CRO 12 Report Stats
STG 4 vs PEN 16 Stats
Mon, 11 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 26 vs GCT 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Thu, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SOU 42 vs BRI 16 Report Stats
Fri, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
PAR 16 vs BUL 18 Report Stats
Sat, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
CAN 16 vs STG 34 Report Stats
MEL 48 vs CRO 6 Report Stats
WES 4 vs SYD 48 Report Stats
Sun, 17 AugTimes shown AEST
NEW 28 vs NZW 22 Report Stats
GCT 12 vs MAN 15 Report Stats
Mon, 18 AugTimes shown AEST
PEN 23 vs NQL 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 24
Thu, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
BUL 30 vs WES 10 Stats
Fri, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
PAR 22 vs MAN 12 Report Stats
Sat, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 48 vs NEW 6 Report Stats
SOU 10 vs NQL 22 Report Stats
Sun, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW 12 vs SYD 46 Report Stats
CRO 12 vs CAN 22 Stats
STG 34 vs GCT 6 Stats
Mon, 25 AugTimes shown AEST
PEN 10 vs MEL 24 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 25
Thu, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
BUL 14 vs SOU 21 Stats
Fri, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 30 vs STG 22 Stats
Sat, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
NEW 42 vs PAR 12 Stats
CAN 27 vs WES 12 Stats
SYD 24 vs MEL 12 Stats
Sun, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
NZW 42 vs GCT Stats
MAN 26 vs PEN 25 Stats
Mon, 01 SepTimes shown AEST
NQL 20 vs CRO 19 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 26
Thu, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 22 vs SOU 18 Stats
Fri, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
MEL 22 vs BRI 12 Stats
Sat, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
WES 26 vs CRO 10 Report Stats
CAN 33 vs PAR 20 Stats
NQL 30 vs MAN 16 Report Stats
Sun, 07 SepTimes shown AEST
NEW 40 vs STG 10 Report Stats
GCT 19 vs BUL 18 Report Stats
PEN 22 vs NZW 6 Stats
View All Fixtures
Finals Week 1
Fri, 12 SepTimes shown AEST
MAN 24 vs SOU 40 Report Stats
Sat, 13 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 18 vs PEN 19 Report Stats
NQL 32 vs BRI 20 Report Stats
Sun, 14 SepTimes shown AEST
MEL 4 vs BUL 28 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Finals Week 2
Fri, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 31 vs NQL 30 Report Stats
Sat, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
MAN 17 vs BUL 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Preliminary Finals
Fri, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
SOU 32 vs SYD 22 Report Stats
Sat, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
PEN 12 vs BUL 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Grand Final
Sun, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
SOU 30 vs BUL 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
NRL Premiership - 2014 Ladder
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Sydney Roosters 24 16 8 0 230 36
Manly 24 16 8 0 103 36
South Sydney 24 15 9 0 224 34
Penrith 24 15 9 0 80 34
North Queensland 24 14 10 0 190 32
Melbourne 24 14 10 0 76 32
Canterbury-Bankstown 24 13 11 0 7 30
Brisbane 24 12 12 0 93 28
View all
 
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