Melbourne Storm great Billy Slater has called time on his outstanding rugby league career, effective at the end of the 2018 season.
The 35-year-old – who has scored 187 tries in 313 NRL matches for the Storm – battled tears as he told a packed media conference about his decision to retire.
“For 16 years, I’ve had the pleasure to play in the NRL, however, this will be my last as I will be retiring at season’s end,” Slater said.
“I feel so very lucky to have my career I’ve had.
“I have always felt extremely grateful and a sense of loyalty to this club and the people associated with it.
“I am proud to have helped in the development of this club to become one of the most powerful sporting organisations in Australia.”
Slater, who retired from representative football in May this year, said that he had known “for a while” that this would be his last season with the Storm.
He added that while he had not lose the desire to play, he did not want “to empty the tank and then call it a day”.
“It’s not one [a decision] that I have taken lightly [but] I didn’t want to make the announcement any earlier,” he said.
“I wanted to sit on it for a while and make sure I was making the right decision.
“I’m pretty comfortable with what I’ve come to and that’s finishing up at the end of this year.”
Slater’s glittering career, that has seen him win two Clive Churchill Medals, two Wally Lewis medals and one Dally M, could have easily been derailed by shoulder reconstructions required in 2015 and 2016.
But he made it back to play 21 matches in 2017 and win his fourth NRL grand final – a record he hopes to add to in September.
“Two years ago, I nearly had to finish due to a shoulder injury,” he said. “I said it to the boys this morning – ‘that would have really sunk me’. I wasn’t ready to finish then.”
After ending his playing career on his own terms, Slater plans to stay involved in rugby league in a coaching capacity, in addition to working in the media and with his horses.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy hailed Slater for his “unbelievable career” and said Slater had left a major legacy regarding rugby league in Victoria.
“There would be nowhere near as many kids playing rugby league in Victoria if Billy Slater hadn’t have played for the Melbourne Storm,” he said. “He is a great ambassador.”
Slater and his Storm teammates sit second on the NRL ladder with just four rounds of the regular season remaining.