Call him “The Voice” if you like, but a pair of Kangaroos legends insist Australia fullback Billy Slater is hitting all the right notes in tuning up the side’s defence ahead of Saturday’s World Cup final against England.
Slater has taken his overall World Cup tally of tries to a record-breaking 16 during this tournament, but it is his role in marshalling Australia’s defensive line has been hailed as critical by captain Cameron Smith and assistant coach Trevor Gillmeister in the lead-up to the showdown with England.
Winger Valentine Holmes has scored 11 tries on the wing in the past two games but Smith said the Sharks No.1 was also gaining plenty of insights from Slater on what it took to be a complete fullback.
“I think [Holmes] is learning a fair bit being around Billy, particularly the vocal aspect of a fullback’s role,” Smith said.
“That is one area I have found in my career where Billy is quite unrivalled, with the amount of talk he has for the team and particularly in defence.”
The Kangaroos on Tuesday named an unchanged line-up for Saturday night’s final at Suncorp Stadium.
Gillmeister has played with and coached plenty of quality fullbacks but said Slater was the best communicator he had seen.
“Billy doesn’t stop talking and he is the best I have ever heard for organising and telling blokes when they are coming back in to the line to go right or left,” he said.
“You can’t put a price on that, particularly if you are a big bloke coming back into the line. Getting hauled over to the wrong side can be energy zapping but nine times out of 10 Billy picks the right way for them to go.
“That enables them to get set and get our line speed going again.
“Billy is invaluable with that and it is the same at training. He is talking all the time.”
Slater said as a fullback you had to be prepared to be “dominant with your talk” and confident enough to tell senior players where to go.
“The chirpiness certainly comes naturally to me. I am a very vocal person on the training paddock and at the game,” Slater said.
“But knowing what to say, when to say it and where to put people, I’ve had to work on.
“I’ve had to understand opposition attacks and where I want my defence and where I want my numbers.
“I see it as my defensive line when I am back there and you’ve got to get it right or be prepared to make some tackles.”
Darren Lockyer named Slater at fullback in his best State of Origin side of all time from both states in a special edition published by Rugby League Week in 2013.
One of the key reasons was Slater’s positional play, which Lockyer said was unsurpassed.
A keen student of the game, Slater has forged his own style while learning from the leading modern custodians.
“When I went to the Melbourne Storm, my first opportunity to play fullback was in my debut against the Cronulla Sharks when Robbie Ross was injured, and he helped me a lot and taught me positional play,” he said.
“But after that I did it all myself. I looked at video of Darren Lockyer, Matt Bowen and Anthony Minichiello. [Minichiello] had some great numbers and was a heavily involved fullback and a running fullback. Lockyer was a complete passing fullback and a runner.
“I took all those skills on board and developed my own style.”
Style and substance will win the World Cup final and after conceding 16 points in five games, the Kangaroos cannot just be satisfied with that.
“Our defence has been very impressive this campaign,” Slater said.
“We know our biggest test will come [against England] and we can’t be reflecting right now. We need to continue to improve.”
Smith harked back to the last World Cup before asserting how to prevail in the battle with England.
“The attitude towards our defence is how we won in 2013,” he said.
“Given now that we are in the big matches I have been around long enough to understand that is what is going to win us the [final].”
Kangaroos team to face England: Billy Slater, Dane Gagai, Will Chambers, Josh Dugan, Valentine Holmes, Michael Morgan, Cooper Cronk, Aaron Woods, Cameron Smith, David Klemmer, Boyd Cordner, Matt Gillett, Josh McGuire. Interchange: Wade Graham, Jordan McLean, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Tyson Frizell. Reserves: Felise Kaufusi, Tom Trbojevic, Josh Mansour, James Maloney.
This article first appeared on NRL.com