You think Billy Slater’s a grub – get over it

AJ Mithen Columnist

By AJ Mithen, AJ Mithen is a Roar Expert

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    In researching this piece, I punched ‘Billy Slater grub’ into the search engine and was immediately spoilt for choice. If you have the time and the tolerance, there’s over 314,000 entries to peruse.

    Slater is a polarising figure, no doubt. There’s not much of an indifferent middle ground – opposition fans froth at the mouth about his supposed ‘dirty’ play and free ride from the referees, while Melbourne fans understandably will not hear a bad word said about their man.

    This week, rugby league legends Brad Fittler and Peter Sterling (among many others) panned the Storm fullback for ‘diving’ against Newcastle. Knights forward Lachlan Fitzgibbon was sin-binned after making minimal contact with Slater after he’d taken a quick tap.

    You could tell he would have loved to say otherwise, but Fitzgibbon showed some class in acknowledging Slater got him within the rules, frustrating as they are.

    Slater had pulled a similar stunt a few weeks earlier, against Cronulla, getting Luke Lewis a ten-minute breather. So Fitzgibbon couldn’t really say he wasn’t warned.

    I despise diving, or, as it’s generally known these days, ‘gamesmanship’. We all do. But I’ve come to better understand it. My first instinct isn’t to criticise a diver, it’s to wonder ‘why would you give them the opportunity to do it?’

    It’s not as though the Slater haters can get all high and mighty, either. Cut the act that you’d be mortified if someone on your team did it. Do you think Italian football fans carry any guilt about Fabio Grosso vs Lucas Neill in 2006?

    I wouldn’t have thought so – it’s one of those convenient blind spots we all carry as sports fans.

    Australia's Billy Slater dives on the grass to score a try

    AP Photo/Jon Super

    Slater’s definitely no angel. He spent almost half of 2006 suspended after copping seven weeks for kicking John Skandalis in the head, then a few more weeks for a tackle on Ryan Cross. He’s been suspended almost a dozen times and most notably could have cost himself the 2008 Dally M Medal after belting St George Illawarra’s Jason Nightingale and copping a week.

    Still, Slater haters claim he’s some kind of ‘protected species’. I’m yet to see any sturdy proof.

    Slater haters have been enraged plenty across the years. It’s the feet-first-sliding in to attempt to prevent tries in the 2008 grand final loss to Manly, the high boot to David Klemmer’s face in 2013, the Storm’s 2006-09 salary cap scandal, the constant sledging and niggle, the diving for penalties, the whole package.

    The outrage over the Klemmer boot has always bemused me. It was clearly an accident and that’s how the judiciary saw it, too… I guess people see what they want to see when Slater is involved.

    But ask yourself this, Slater haters, and be honest – do you want your team’s custodian to be an honest, mild-mannered sweeper, or do you want them to have a mean streak, keen to throw the game straight into your opponent’s face?

    Do you think Slater would have made it though 365 games (and counting) for Melbourne, Queensland and Australia if he was a shy, meek, retiring type on the field?

    It takes a special kind of mentality to face down the likes of Willie Mason, Jarryd Hayne, Anthony Watmough and the Stewart boys in their prime and not take a backward step.

    Slater gives his, and he gets his. That’s the nature of rugby league. It’s not a theatre for the faint of heart and weak of constitution.

    He’s been carrying dud shoulders since 2015, his left damaged by a massive impact from former New Zealand Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei (‘The Beast’ certainly did make a habit of destroying Slater when the opportunity presented itself).

    The hit he took last year from Canberra’s Sia Soliola knocked him unconscious for over three minutes.


    (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

    James Graham decided his ear would make a decent entree in the 2012 grand final.

    But with all the late hits, low blows and occasional obliterations by rumbling forwards, Slater has kept turning up and ripping in, for over 15 years.

    By all indications, the future of the fullback is trending larger. Slater reports in at 5’10 and 88 kilos.

    According to their clubs, Tom Trbojevic reports at 6’4 and 102 kilos. James Tedesco is 6’0 and 96 kilos. Jack Wighton is 6’2 and 93 kilos and if he finds himself on the sidelines, he’ll be replaced by Nick Cotric, who’s 6’1 and 98 kilos.

    Last Friday night, the NRL’s next superstar, Kayln Ponga (6’1, 92 kilos), broke free down the left wing and a try was coming for all money. All Ponga had to do was get past busted old Billy.

    He didn’t. Slater emphatically cut him down, putting him out of bounds with an authority that said “not yet, son”. Ponga could only look at the replay and wistfully laugh to himself.

    Slater is off contract at the end of this year and while he’s made public his thoughts about possible retirement, you’d be a fool if you didn’t want your team to at least check on his availability.

    Since he burst on to the scene as a 19-year-old, scoring 19 tries in the 2003 NRL season, he’s supplied some of the great rugby league highlights in the Storm, Maroon and Australian jerseys.

    His football CV is almost without peer: Clive Churchill Medals, the Dally M Medal, the Golden Boot award as the world’s best player and countless accolades for himself and his teams.

    Off the field, Slater is everything the NRL wants its players to be. He’s an ambassador for the Starlight foundation, a regular visitor to hospitals to meet sick kids, and he runs ‘Billy’s Buddies’, a program for young kids to get into sport.

    Just watching him interact with the fans at a game and in public, it’s clear this is a good man who wants to make his influence count for something.

    If he played AFL in Melbourne, they would have already placed statues of him on five different sites and named suburbs after him. I’m still not 100 per cent convinced that the city of Melbourne quite understands or appreciates just what it has in Slater.

    I’m too young to remember Clive Churchill, Graeme Langlands, Graeme Eadie and their ilk, but I grew up in a golden age for quality fullbacks. I’ve been lucky enough to watch the likes of Garry Jack, Gary Belcher, Darren Lockyer, Brett Mullins, Darius Boyd, Tim Brasher and Andrew Ettingshausen go about their business.

    That’s a pretty good list of names.

    But Billy Slater is the best fullback I’ve seen by the length of the straight. It’s no contest.

    And for all your hate, angst, name calling and lame meme creation, you can’t argue otherwise.

    AJ Mithen
    AJ Mithen

    AJ watches far too much sport. When he's not watching it, he's reading about it. When he's not reading about it, he's writing about it and when he's not writing about it, he's talking about it on the podcast ‘A Sporting Discussion’. Rugby league has AJ's heart, but he loves to give space to the sports that the mainstream forgets - he’ll never rest until Australian baseball gets the coverage it deserves! He’s always game for a debate in a comments section or on twitter @AJMithen - but you’d best come prepared!

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    The Crowd Says (159)

    • April 18th 2018 @ 6:44am
      uglykiwi said | April 18th 2018 @ 6:44am | ! Report

      Trevor Chappell was also a great guy……. and he also acted within the rules, but he’s only ever remember for one thing…….
      I’m not disagreeing with you, Billy is a legend, great player and probably best fullback of all time: BUT Billy does not need to do this!! his legacy is being tarnished by it……. He has the ability to stop now and if he does, then it will go away, just like the kicking in the head incident (s)…. but if he does it one more time……… he will also be remembered as a diver by a lot of people. .

      • April 18th 2018 @ 10:02am
        Roberto said | April 18th 2018 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        Just a had a look at Slaters bio on “Wiki” just to confirm stats and was dumbfounded at what they put on his bio
        Position listed as “Template:Comm Games Diver{Diver} ”

        Is this a gee-up? have a look at the link:

        • Columnist

          April 18th 2018 @ 10:07am
          AJ Mithen said | April 18th 2018 @ 10:07am | ! Report

          I noticed that too Roberto! Someone needs to brush up on their wiki skills if they wanna make it count…

          • April 18th 2018 @ 10:46am
            Roberto said | April 18th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

            Wiki have listed the ‘diving’ controversy on his 2018 details. Pity he won’t be remembered in a better light.

            I get how most love his running style and competiveness, thus claim his the best they have ever seen.
            But for mine his still a class below Churchill/Langlands and Lockyer.

            Kayln Ponga is already an electric runner like Slater but has the extra skillset of general play kicking and ball playing vision like Lockyer.
            Ponga will surpass Slater in the rankings in less than a decade from now.

            • April 18th 2018 @ 10:53am
              Albo said | April 18th 2018 @ 10:53am | ! Report

              Only if he improves his tackling !

              • Roar Guru

                April 18th 2018 @ 11:12am
                Con Scortis said | April 18th 2018 @ 11:12am | ! Report

                I remember a few years ago I read Anthony Mundine’s wiki profile (don’t ask) and as he’s a boxer there’s a spot to put in the boxers “stance” – as in “orthodox”, “southpaw” etc.

                Whoever wrote his profile had entered “Muslim” as his stance (this has since been changed). Some people really need help!!

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2018 @ 12:19pm
        BigJ said | April 18th 2018 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

        Oh want a load of crap! Ben Ellis was the greatest Miller of penalties ever and he would flat out cheat sometimes to get them and he is fondly remembered as a great legend of the game. Boxers take dives all the time (Briggs v Green comes to mind) and they are still fondly remembered so I don’t think s couple of dives by slater is going to tarnish his legacy. As the author states “ get over it”

        • Roar Guru

          April 18th 2018 @ 1:43pm
          Chop said | April 18th 2018 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

          Who the hell is Ben Ellis?

          • Roar Guru

            April 18th 2018 @ 3:00pm
            Con Scortis said | April 18th 2018 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

            Ben Ellis is the guy who picked up the ball and ran with it at the Rugby School. The Ben Ellis Trophy is named in his honour. In addition to being a Miller of penalties, he was a frequent diver.

            • Roar Guru

              April 18th 2018 @ 3:51pm
              jeznez said | April 18th 2018 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

              You mean William Webb Ellis?

              I assumed Ben Ellis was the code name Benny Elias used when undercover.

              • Roar Guru

                April 18th 2018 @ 4:03pm
                Con Scortis said | April 18th 2018 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

                Yeah I was trying to be funny, but it clearly didn’t work haha.

              • Roar Guru

                April 18th 2018 @ 4:46pm
                jeznez said | April 18th 2018 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

                No worries Con, so was I!

              • Roar Rookie

                April 18th 2018 @ 8:51pm
                Bunney said | April 18th 2018 @ 8:51pm | ! Report

                It worked for me Con!

                I understood you!

        • Roar Guru

          April 18th 2018 @ 2:04pm
          The Barry said | April 18th 2018 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

          I’m with you JigB!

          Ben Ellis was the biggest Miller of penalties I’ve seen too…

    • Roar Guru

      April 18th 2018 @ 6:45am
      The Barry said | April 18th 2018 @ 6:45am | ! Report

      I agree with most of what you’ve written. When I look at his career in total ‘grub’ isn’t in the first 20 words that come to mind. Yesterday I shared a story of an encounter I had with Slater in 2004 and he was fantastic.

      The only issue I take is calling Slater’s Kung fu bomb catching technique ‘accidental’. He changed his technique markedly and did it several times, Klemmer was just the bloke that was unfortunate enough to cop the boot in the face. That’s probably symptomatic of the Storm at the time who spent more time asking “how can we get an edge” than “should we”.

      The diving is an interesting one. The Fitzgibbon one was clearly a penalty and I have less problem with that because Fitzgibbon shouldn’t have been silly enough to reach out (as an aside, massive wraps on the way Fitzgibbon has responded – respect and accountability). But the Lewis one…Lewis did nothing wrong. I don’t think he even touched Slater who knocked his own ankles together and hit the turf.

      I haven’t thought about this before but it’s almost like there’s two levels of diving:

      Exaggeration – like the Fitz incident. I don’t have too much problem with that and it can be called gamesmanship. If the opponent didn’t do the wrong thing in the first place there would be no opportunity to dive.

      Simulation – Lewis. A complete fake to draw a penalty. I do have a problem with this type and it can only be called che@ting.

      • April 18th 2018 @ 7:55am
        Peter Phelps said | April 18th 2018 @ 7:55am | ! Report

        “Lewis did nothing wrong. I don’t think he even touched Slater who knocked his own ankles together and hit the turf”

        That may be but as a player, you run with the ball, stumble through your own clumsiness and hit the deck. Stupid me, then low and behold the ref blows his whistle and penalises Lewis giving you a penalty,

        Do you

        a) Say hey ref, I am a clumsy b@@@@@@, that was my fault, Lewis did nothing and it should be Cronulla’s penalty even though we are behind on the score board. or

        b) Accept the penalty and play on.

        • Roar Guru

          April 18th 2018 @ 8:19am
          The Barry said | April 18th 2018 @ 8:19am | ! Report

          You’re welcome to your interpretation Pete but mine is that he dived to milk a penalty. It was Chaplin-esque.

          Funny how a guy who has played 300+ NRL games, 30 tests, 30 origins, won Dally Ms, golden boots, Churchills, premierships, world cups and Australia’s greatest athlete twice is suddenly a clumsy bast’d that can’t avoid his own feet when it suits…🤣

          • April 18th 2018 @ 8:52am
            Forty Twenty said | April 18th 2018 @ 8:52am | ! Report

            It’s ironic that Lewis gets sent to the sin bin for virtually nothing yet in SOO last year I can recall Darius Boyd virtually tackling someone from NSW as he tried to chase a kick and no penalty was awarded let alone a sin bin.

            The trouble is the refs reward diving yet when a player makes a genuine attempt to evade illegal actions he doesn’t get the penalty he deserves.

            • Roar Guru

              April 18th 2018 @ 12:39pm
              Emcie said | April 18th 2018 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

              How can SOO ever be seriously referenced in any discussions about the ref’s? It’s main point of difference is the amount of things let go, and that’s without touching on the deliberately cultivated bias that colours every fans recollection

              • Columnist

                April 18th 2018 @ 1:04pm
                AJ Mithen said | April 18th 2018 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

                Agreed Emcie. A player could take a wrench to their opponent in Origin and the ref would just make sure it wasn’t an adjustable one before calling play on…

              • April 18th 2018 @ 3:15pm
                Forty Twenty said | April 18th 2018 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

                . To suggest every fan has deliberately cultivated bias is ridiculous. I posted a thread on the Silvertails a couple of years back after hearing Gould say on TV that Slater was clearly off side in his famous double kick try in SOO. My thread explained that Slater was onside so how is that ‘deliberately cultivated bias , I follow NSW and was posting on a NSW clubs fan site.

                Sure the refs go easy in SOO but the point still remains that plenty of worse incidents are brushed off than the two that led to Slater diving in fact a huge number.

                The assumption of bias is a boring debating point , people are better off just debating the point.

              • Roar Guru

                April 18th 2018 @ 6:46pm
                Emcie said | April 18th 2018 @ 6:46pm | ! Report

                That’s not what I said. Origin is built on two things- it’s an unsanitised gladitorial version of League and that there’s no impartiality. Everyone buys into the hate on both sides- the teams, media and fans, its part of the specticle. I wasn’t suggesting that every fan is deliberately fooling themselves into unthinking fools.

                My point was that a specific example from a game thats reffed differently to the regular season is not really relevent to the regular season and even if it was in some way picking an example from a game with such opposed fanbases is just inviting the the point to get lost in a mud slinging match. There is no benifit in using examples from Origin if you want a genuine discusion on the refs during the regular season, just use an example from the regular season.

                At any rate, you’re right, there are worse offences that haven’t resulted in sin bins. But you could also make the arguement that lesser offences have lead to sins bins for proffesional fouls, how many times have we seen a player sent off for holding too long that’s then claimed he was held down?

            • April 18th 2018 @ 1:22pm
              Roger said | April 18th 2018 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

              “…yet in SOO last year I can recall Darius Boyd virtually tackling someone from NSW as he tried to chase a kick and no penalty was awarded let alone a sin bin. ” – Bahahahahahaha.

              Really sad old mate.

              • April 18th 2018 @ 3:21pm
                Forty Twenty said | April 18th 2018 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

                Not as sad as your weak response , why don’t you express an opinion instead of just criticising someone. Any opinions on the topic or any posts or are you just afraid to open yourself to ridicule.?

          • April 18th 2018 @ 1:19pm
            MonkeyMayes said | April 18th 2018 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

            TB, it’s not often that I find myself disagreeing with your usual measured and well thought through observations, but I take issue with your description of Slater’s dive as ‘Chaplin-esque.’ I’ve studied the footage more than a dozen times and it’s more Buster Keatonish with a scintilla of Arbuckle sitting just below the surface.

            • Roar Guru

              April 18th 2018 @ 1:43pm
              The Barry said | April 18th 2018 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

              Haha…I almost wrote Keaton-esque but thought Chaplin was a more digestible reference.

            • Roar Guru

              April 18th 2018 @ 1:47pm
              Con Scortis said | April 18th 2018 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

              Haha – I was always more a Buster fan than Chaplin.

              • April 18th 2018 @ 7:16pm
                nerval said | April 18th 2018 @ 7:16pm | ! Report

                You need to watch City Lights, Con – a superior film to any from Keaton’s oeuvre.

              • April 20th 2018 @ 1:38pm
                MonkeyMayes said | April 20th 2018 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

                You’ve got to love the Roar and Rugby League. Where else would a side thread like this develop!

              • Roar Guru

                April 20th 2018 @ 4:23pm
                BigJ said | April 20th 2018 @ 4:23pm | ! Report

                Yes 😢 sad isn’t it??

        • April 18th 2018 @ 1:02pm
          jimmmy said | April 18th 2018 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

          ‘Stumble through your own clumsiness?’ Billy may be a lot of things . Fast, skilful, athletic, cunning etc. But one thing he will never be is clumsy.
          It was deliberate . It brings him no credit at all. He will always be a RL hero of mine but if he keeps up that crepe he goes down a rung each time.

      • Columnist

        April 18th 2018 @ 9:34am
        AJ Mithen said | April 18th 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        I agree about the two sinbin incidents Baz -the Lewis one was marginal at best in real time and laughable on replay. That was probably a dive – but it’s not going to ‘tarnish his legacy’ as we’ve seen sprayed around the place. In some areas, taking the advantage like that is lauded.

        • April 18th 2018 @ 12:32pm
          kangajets said | April 18th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

          You say the afl would build statues of him


          The afl is constantly berating the players who duck and dive like Joel Selwood

          • Columnist

            April 18th 2018 @ 1:17pm
            AJ Mithen said | April 18th 2018 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

            Explain why the following men are AFL legends then please KangaJets:
            ‘Lethal’ Leigh Matthews
            Jack ‘Captain Blood’ Dyer
            Wayne Carey
            Gary Ablett Senior
            John Worsfold
            Tony Shaw

            I could go on… I could also write this article again and replace ‘Slater’ with ‘Selwood’.

            • April 18th 2018 @ 2:25pm
              kangajets said | April 18th 2018 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

              As great as those players were

              They are generally only celebrated by they club they played for because of on or off field behaviour .

              Statues get shat on by pigeons anyway

              Nothing you say changes my opinion and vice versa, you just bothered to justify yours in an article 👍🏼

            • Roar Guru

              April 18th 2018 @ 3:31pm
              spruce moose said | April 18th 2018 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

              That’s such a ridiculous response AJ.

              To compare the brutality of those listed players to the underhanded style of slater is absurd.

              All the aforementioned players were hard rocks, and would do things that today we would consider thuggish (you can add Tony Lockett to that list), but the VITAL difference between that list of players and Slater is that all of them behaved in a way that was consistent with their peers. AFL was a sport where extraordinary acts of violence were not just condoned, but encouraged.

              The AFL have stamped that out. As have the NRL. Credit to both.

              Slater’s antics would have had a home in the 70’s and 80’s in the NSWRL (indeed, may have even been celebrated in the same manner as the listed AFL players), but our game has moved away from thuggery.

              No one on that list ever dived either.

        • Roar Guru

          April 18th 2018 @ 1:48pm
          The Barry said | April 18th 2018 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

          Hey AJ – I don’t think it’s tarnished his legacy but I think most of the commentary is if he doesn’t knock this on the head it could.

          He’s got 0.75 – 1.75 seasons left. If he does this a couple more times he won’t really have time left to bounce back and it’s potentially what he could be remembered for – at least in the short term.

          There’s also more than a few out there that don’t like him and this is grist for the mill.

          His best option is to cut it out.

          • Columnist

            April 18th 2018 @ 1:56pm
            AJ Mithen said | April 18th 2018 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

            Short term is the key phrase Baz. I agree that there’s more than a few people out there happy to focus on a few instances of gamesmanship at the expense of the career, too. But somehow I’m not sure Slater gives too much of a hoot.

      • April 18th 2018 @ 12:40pm
        soapit said | April 18th 2018 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

        agree about the kick to the face. an accident waiting to happen. he put the foot specifically out there to protect himself from anyone coming in to play on their self preservation,

    • April 18th 2018 @ 7:14am
      Gonzo said | April 18th 2018 @ 7:14am | ! Report

      He’s not a grub, but he does dive.

      Call that what you want, but it isn’t football, well not this kind of football anyway.

    • April 18th 2018 @ 7:29am
      Jeffrey Dun said | April 18th 2018 @ 7:29am | ! Report

      It is possible for a player to be a grub and an all time great at the same time is it not ? In any event, I think talk of Slater’s grubbiness is exaggerated. With the exception of the Skandalis incident, which is one of the lowest acts I have seen on a football field, the incidents have been scattered over a long career.

      With regard to Slater (and Cam Smith) diving, I blame the NRL and referees. A sin bin for those incidents is excessive and make the NRL appear foolish. An appropriate response from the referees would eliminate the incentive to dive.

    • Roar Guru

      April 18th 2018 @ 7:38am
      Con Scortis said | April 18th 2018 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      “I punched ‘Billy Slater grub’ into the search engine”. There’s no need for such implied violence, AJ, especially this early in the morning. You could have tapped, typed, keyed, entered, inputted, rapped, patted, dobbed, dabbed, drummed or even knocked. But not punched.

      Also, I think we need a new word for “grub” as we rugby league fans use that term too frequently. I don’t think Billy is a grub, I like him overall and as I posted yesterday, I hear he does a lot of good things off the field. I just wish he wouldn’t do the not-so-good things on the field.

      • Columnist

        April 18th 2018 @ 8:15am
        AJ Mithen said | April 18th 2018 @ 8:15am | ! Report

        It’s all this rugby league Con! I’ve been turned into a hoodlum-no-good-thug who won’t think of the children.

        Thanks for the comment- I’ll fight ya!!

        (Agree in the term ‘grub’, too)

        • Roar Rookie

          April 18th 2018 @ 9:22am
          William Dalton Davis said | April 18th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

          Thugby league thug you are. My personal favourite knock on the game though is “Mungo ball”.

          • Columnist

            April 18th 2018 @ 12:21pm
            AJ Mithen said | April 18th 2018 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

            Mungo ball is still better than the Australian Financial Review’s take on rugby league. And your profile shot is absolutely sensational, William Dalton Davis. Watch out for t shirt cannons!

    • April 18th 2018 @ 7:47am
      Peter Phelps said | April 18th 2018 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      Great article, well researched and put together. Many will not like it though, the majority prefer hyperbole over facts.

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