An unimpressed Cameron Smith says Billy Slater deserved more respect from fans after they booed the retiring Melbourne great throughout the NRL grand final at ANZ Stadium.
Unhappy ending for Billy Slater’s brilliant career https://t.co/QTXSeGcMxJ
— Rugby League Writers (@RLWA_worldwide) September 30, 2018
Smith cut a forlorn figure after the Storm’s 21-6 loss to Sydney Roosters but still bristled when the fans’ treatment of Slater was brought up, agreeing it was disrespectful.
Slater, 35, is considered the game’s greatest fullback but he is clearly not the most popular after controversially escaping a shoulder charge ban to draw the curtain on his 16 season career in the grand final.
The former Test No.1 was jeered every time he touched the ball, even copping them before he even got onto the field.
Boos echoed around ANZ Stadium when Slater’s name was mentioned in the list of NRL 2018 retirees honoured pre-match and received another serve when footage of him warming up in the dressing room lit up the venue’s big screen.
Asked if the crowd were disrespectful, Storm captain Smith said: “I don’t think there is any other way to say that.
“He’s only ever been someone good for the game, I think he deserved a bit more respect than that.”
There was no respite for Slater, whose post-match TV interview was almost drowned out by boos as he tried to collect his thoughts after the shattering loss.
Slater kept his composure, almost laughing at the crowd reaction as he was interviewed by Immortal Andrew Johns.
“It’s not how it’s panned out, that’s footy,” a philosophical Slater told Johns.
“We tried our best but that’s the way it goes. I’m really grateful for the career I’ve had, the friends I’ve made and what rugby league has done for me.”
Unlike the crowd, Smith savoured his final time with his former club, Queensland and Kangaroos teammate Slater.
“There have been a couple of moments this week (where I) was taking time to realise it is the last time I am here with Billy,” he said.
“At the captain’s run yesterday, that was the last time we ever trained together. Going out on the bus, that was the last time we travelled to a game together.
“I have been taking those last little moments in. It has been an emotional week knowing this time has been coming.”
Despite the fans’ disappointing reaction, Smith said his fond memories of Slater’s career still far outweighed the bad.
“I am very grateful I got the opportunity to play my entire career with a person like Billy,” he said.
“Things he has been able to achieve on the football field you just sit back in awe of it.
“That was the closing chapter tonight. In the years we have spent together the good memories far outweigh the bad.”