Australia rugby league star Billy Slater announces retirement

Billy Slater of Australia runs at the defence of Australia during the rugby league World Cup men’s final match between Australia and England in Brisbane in December 2017. (AFP pic)

SYDNEY: Australian star Billy Slater said Wednesday he was stepping away from rugby league after 16 years, as coaches and peers hailed the Melbourne Storm fullback’s journey to the top of the game.

An emotional Slater told reporters he did not take the decision to hang up his boots lightly but was comfortable with calling it a day after the current National Rugby League season ends in September.

“I feel so very lucky to have the career I have had,” the 35-year-old said.

“Eighteen years ago I made the decision to pack my car up and chase my dream. I’ve always felt extremely grateful and loyal to this club.”

Slater made his NRL debut for the Storm in 2003, playing 313 games and scoring 187 tries.

During his outstanding career, he has collected two Clive Churchill Medals, a Dally M Medal and two NRL Grand Final trophies.

The Australia and Queensland great, who retired from international and representative rugby league in May, is the latest star to depart the Storm after Cooper Cronk left for the Roosters at the end of last season.

Skipper Cameron Smith, who retired from representative football in May, is the last of the “Big Three” – who played 232 games alongside each other – left at the club, and has yet to announce a decision on his future.

Slater is considered one of the greatest ever to play the game and leaves at the height of his career, having been named best player in this year’s State of Origin series.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy praised Slater’s hard work and impact on the sport.

“It’s a sad day without doubt, having said that we should celebrate what has been an unbelievable career,” Bellamy said.

“For 16 years he’s been in Melbourne. There wouldn’t be that many kids playing rugby league in Victoria unless Billy Slater was playing for the Storm”.

Slater represented the Kangaroos in the 2008, 2013 and 2017 World Cup, lifting the trophy twice.