Dicey Topics: Billy Slater talks money, bodies and religion

Each week, Benjamin Law asks public figures to discuss the subjects we're told to keep private by getting them to roll a die. The numbers they land on are the topics they're given.

This week he talks to Billy Slater. The 35-year-old rugby league star played 16 seasons at fullback for the Melbourne Storm, as well as State of Origin for Queensland and 30 Tests for Australia.

"You could say rugby league is my religion. Its something you buy into and believe in, isnt it? And, to a certain extent, dedicate your life to."

"You could say rugby league is my religion. Its something you buy into and believe in, isnt it? And, to a certain extent, dedicate your life to."Credit:Getty Images


Did you grow up with much money?


We weren't flush with money. Mum and Dad worked really hard, but we rented my whole childhood. We lived in 10 different houses in and around Innisfail, North Queensland. But my sister and I had a lucky childhood.

So from childhood to now, you've had a significant jump in income and lifestyle?

That's fair to say.

How much does a pro rugby league player earn?

It ranges. Obviously, some can do really well out of our sport, and there are others who need to focus on other areas. I've been fortunate enough to play in the National Rugby League for 16 years, but it's not uncommon for people to come in for two, three or four years, and that's the length of their career.

When did you know you were rich?

I wouldn't say I'm rich, but once you establish yourself as a first-grade player, you start hitting some decent numbers. My first contract with the Melbourne Storm was about $120 a week – obviously a part-time contract – but once you start performing in the first-grade team, your contract can accelerate quite quickly.

Can that be a dangerous combination?

Young men, early in their careers, earning such huge sums? Personally I've always been quite responsible with my money, probably due to the fact we didn't have a whole heap growing up. Back in the day, working with racehorses in Sydney with Gai Waterhouse, I was earning $5.12 an hour, seven days a week. It was hard work, but I really enjoyed what I was doing and earned every cent. So I've always had that respect for money.

Now that you've finished playing in the National Rugby League, what's next?

I'm still going to be involved in the game. I'll stay on at Melbourne Storm in a coaching capacity. I'm doing leadership and high standards cultural work at the AFL's St Kilda Football Club. I'm also going to be working with Channel Nine, moving into more of a weekly commentary role within Wide World of Sports.

Beyond food, water and shelter, what else do you consider a necessity?

Investment. Putting my family in a healthy position for their future.

What was the last thing you bought that you regret?

Putting money on a horse the other night!


In the six years to 2014 you were at your career peak, then a shoulder injury affected you during much of 2015 and put you out for almost the entire season in 2016. How did you manage that disappointment?

That was a really tough time – not just in my career, but my life. When I did my shoulder in 2015, it was towards the middle of the season. I played another four games with it, then got a shoulder operation that put me out for the rest of that year. I wasn't too worried initially. I rehabilitated, trained and worked hard to get back for 2016. But my shoulder was never quite right. I just thought, "I've got to play through a little pain and it'll come good." Then I got it scanned and the report came back that I had to have it operated on again. It was the toughest time in my career, swallowing that news. It's physically tough because it's a slow-healing injury. It's mentally tough as well, missing out on playing what I love doing for a year and a half. It was also tough on my family. My wife had to bear a lot of the load. Luckily enough, it's now healed 100 per cent.

How did you maintain mental health in that period?

I've got a very supportive family. I've got an amazing wife, Nicole, who sacrifices a lot for me and my career. And my children [Slater has two children with Nicole] don't care if I drop the ball. They're just happy to see their dad. It puts it into perspective.

I understand you've dabbled in modelling …

Oh, I've had photos taken. [Laughs]

Is there anything about your body that makes you feel insecure?

Probably my feet. I never wore shoes until year 7. We just didn't wear shoes in North Queensland, so I've got a wide foot. Some of my teammates say they're like Shrek feet, but they've served me very well over the past two decades. [Laughs]


Are you religious?

No. It's just never been something my family's focused on. My religion is being a good person.

Rugby league has its own rituals, traditions and history. That's almost like a religion, isn't it?

You could say rugby league is my religion. It's something you buy into and believe in, isn't it? And, to a certain extent, dedicate your life to. It's what I've known most, and what I've enjoyed and been passionate about.

What is it about rugby league that gives you meaning?

I recently took my young son to junior rugby league, and I realised I'd forgotten how much playing junior league gives you a community feel. It's the families involved: mums who help out in administration; fathers who coach the teams; brothers and sisters who run the water bottles. All this brings everyone together.

What's the meaning of life?

Oh geez, you're whacking it on me now. It's got to be happiness: working hard for something and sticking at it, to get that real sense of achievement and joy.

[email protected]

Move with Billy Slater (Penguin, $35), is out on Monday.

Writer, author of The Family Law and Gaysia.

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