Queensland State of Origin great Ben Ikin fears Billy Slater’s rugby league career as we know it may be over.
Ruled out of 2016 NRL season on Monday with another devastating shoulder injury, Slater will be three months shy of 34 when he’s due to resume playing in 2017.
The Melbourne Storm insist the former world player of the year, Dally M Medallist and three-time grand final winner isn’t finished yet.
But Ikin, speaking from experience, isn’t so sure.
The dual Origin series victor says even if Slater makes it back, the superstar fullback will unlikely be the same player after undergoing surgery on the same left shoulder that prematurely ended his 2015 campaign.
Ikin stopped short of penning Slater’s rugby league obituary, saying the 32-year-old remained “an ultimate professional”.
“But he’s certainly getting older. When you start to sustain major injuries like that at his age, it becomes more and more difficult to rebound,” Ikin said on Fox Sports’ NRL 360.
“Look, I did that in 2001. I got injured in round one – I did my knee. It took three operations to put it back together.
“I finally got back on the field in 2003 and the issue wasn’t so much with the knee; it was all the other niggles because I’d been out of the game for so long.
“So not only does Billy have to deal with that, like everyone at every age, he’s getting older.
“So his impact, there’s every chance by the time he does get back on the field, will be diminished.”
Slater’s season-ending injury has also all but cruelled his chances of surpassing legendary North Sydney and Manly winger Ken Irvine’s all-time tryscoring record, a feat that once appeared Slater’s destiny.
Slater has scored 172 tries during his 278-game career for the Storm, still 40 behind Irvine’s benchmark 212 and eight adrift of Manly icon Steve Menzies, who holds down second place with 180.