Time to right wrong: Belcher says Billy has point to prove
RUGBY LEAGUE: Australian fullback great Gary Belcher believes Billy Slater carries scars from a World Cup brain explosion that can only be healed with victory against England in Saturday night's decider.
Slater is widely regarded as the greatest fullback in rugby league's 109-year history and will surpass Queensland icon Arthur Beetson with his 30th Test in the World Cup final at Suncorp Stadium.
For Slater, it marks a return to the scene of his gut-wrenching moment, nine years ago, when he produced the uncharacteristic blunder that stunned Australia in their shock World Cup final loss to New Zealand.
Trailing 18-16 in the 60th minute, Slater was pushed towards the sideline by the Kiwi defence and frantically tossed the ball infield for Benji Marshall to score the easiest try of his career.
The underdog Kiwis went on to complete a 34-20 boilover and a shattered Slater - in his rookie year as a Test footballer - was blamed for costing Australia the World Cup.
The champion No.1 has since produced a stream of match-winning plays for Melbourne, Queensland and Australia but Belcher believes Slater will not have forgotten his haunting Suncorp moment.
"This is the chance for him to make amends,” said Belcher, who played 15 Tests for Australia between 1986 and 1991.
"An error like that stays with you.
"As far as the World Cup goes, until he has a great game in a winning team, he won't be truly over it.
"Billy wouldn't not have forgotten it. But that's what makes players like him great. The great ones learn from tough times and rather than break them, they fight back as better players.
"This is Billy's chance to right the wrongs.”
Belcher presented Slater with his Australian jumper before the World Cup opener against England six weeks ago and says the 34-year-old remains at the peak of his powers.
"This is the biggest moment for Cam Smith and Billy in their Test careers to win a World Cup on home soil,” Belcher said.
"I have been in camp to see Billy and commentating on Australia throughout the tournament (for Channel Seven), Billy is still going great guns.”
Slater said he had well and truly moved on from his World Cup gaffe as he prepares for what could be his final game in Australian colours.
"That was a long time ago,” he said. "A lot of the players in this team were probably in primary school when that game was played.
"I have a pretty high standard that I set myself individually. We're playing for the Kangaroos. We've got a responsibility to play well.”