Starting with a clean Slate April 11, 2008 Storm coach Craig Bellamy reckons Billy Slater has the speed and smarts to match any fullback, reportsÂ Glenn Jackson. In name - and occasionally temperament and permanently looks - he has long been Billy the Kid. Baby-faced and possessing a voice that tells even those who don't know Billy Slater's story that he rode trackwork in a former life, now Billy the Kid is Billy the Ã¢Â€Â¦ most sound football brain in the Melbourne side. According to one of the soundest footballing brains on the planet, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy, there isn't anybody smarter in his premiership-winning side than the fullback. "He's quite vocal in our team meetings, about anything," Bellamy said. "He knows his footy really well, and he knows the game well. He watches a lot of footy, and he's a keen student of the game. "He comes up with a lot of very productive suggestions and ideas. He probably gives as much to our team footy-wise as anyone in the team. Billy would offer as much as any of them. Sometimes, and it's the same with anyone else Ã¢Â€Â¦ how can I say it, they [his ideas] don't quite suit the team. But more often than not, he makes a lot of sense." But that alone won't be enough for Slater to step, swerve and accelerate into a green-and-gold jersey - well, actually a maroon-and-blue one - for the Centenary Test against New Zealand on May 9. Slater outplayed one contender in Karmichael Hunt last Friday night and has the opportunity to get one-up on his other major fullback rival, Manly's Brett Stewart, tonight in the grand final rematch. But Slater is still positioned behind both on the starting grid, and even someone with his blinding acceleration will struggle to overtake his rivals. It's why Slater made something of a pact with himself before making a tackle in 2008. In a bid to ensure rep football would not be off limits, it would be Ã¢Â€Â¦ off limits. What he is telling us, at least, is that he is not thinking about representative football. "When you think you're close, you could be so far away," Slater said. "I haven't played State of Origin for two years. It's not about getting back into rep teams for me. "Don't get me wrong. I'd love to play for Queensland again and it's my dream to play for Australia - even in the juniors I never played for Queensland or Australia. But I've been a bit disappointed over the last two or three years that I haven't got there, and I'm not going to get my hopes up. "Of course, it's something I want to achieve but it's out of my hands." In a way, though, it is in his hands. It is fair to say that Slater has come a long way since he burst into the NRL, all bubble and squeak, at the age of 19. Billy was brilliant back then, but like many of the beasts he would have ridden around Randwick, you just didn't know what you were going to get on any given day. When he began his first-grade career in 2003, he admitted he "ran around like a headless chook - I'd want to be in everything, and I'd be out of position sometimes Ã¢Â€Â¦ just because of enthusiasm I guess". He still runs around as much, being one of the quickest and most prolific players in the NRL in terms of meterage, but the days of a Billy blunder seem to have gone the same way as underworld killings in Melbourne - that was just, like, soooo 2004. Adding a pass and a kick to the blinding pace, one of the best engines around has been upgraded. So much so, that his coach insists he wouldn't swap Slater for anyone. "To me, it's a real big rap because I mean it," Bellamy said. "That's not being disrespectful to the other fullbacks, but I would not swap Billy Slater for any of them. The thing is, I just enjoy watching him play. Even if he was on the other side, I'd enjoy watching him play." As much as anyone? "Yep," he said. "You don't need me to tell you how good he's been playing. He's probably been our best player this season." And while it hasn't been the best of starts to the season for the premiers, there are promising signs. Slater, somewhat remarkably, admitted the side had struggled with that footballers' four-letter word, lazy, as well as what would be a four-letter word in any player's vocabulary if it didn't feature 11 - complacency. "There were things in our game you don't associate with us," Slater said. "Craig pointed out after we played the Roosters that we were lazy. The word lazy, you don't associate that word with us." And certainly not with the side that took on the team that beat them to the 2006 premiership, Brisbane, a week ago. Back to their absolute best they may not be, but they are certainly back. But according to the bloke at the back, an even bigger test awaits tonight against Manly. "Even though they've said revenge isn't part of it, it'll be in the back of their minds," Slater said. "They'd love nothing more than getting one back on us. They'll remember what happened last October. It's just that little bit more than two points." THE CONTENDERS BILLY SLATER - MELBOURNE No Tests, and has not played State of Origin since 2005. The form NRL fullback. Former Test and Origin fullback Gary Belcher says: "He's a sensational player and I'm a big fan. He's playing fantastic and I probably would have had him in the side a few weeks ago but I think Brett Stewart's probably just ahead of him." BRETT STEWART - MANLY The incumbent, due to injury to Karmichael Hunt last October.Belcher says: "He's playing some awesome football. I'm a Minichiello fan, and I thought NSW would have had a tough job choosing between them, but with Minichiello in doubt, it will have to be Stewart." ANTHONY MINICHIELLO - ROOSTERS 18 Tests. Plagued by back problems, likely to cost him the May 9 Test. Belcher says: "One of the better fullbacks we've had in a long while. He just bounces off defenders even when he's hit by the bigger guys. He's been a thorn in Queensland's side for some time." KARMICHAEL HUNT - BRISBANE Seven Tests. Yet to set the world on fire this year. Belcher says: "He's playing pretty good football. He plays a different game to the other guys - he has that passing game as opposed to just a running game of Billy and Brett Stewart. They're more carriers of the football. Karmichael has the ability to set plays up. It depends what the selectors are looking for, but there's a struck match between those three." MATT BOWEN - NORTH QUEENSLAND One Test. Another who is likely to be cruelled by injury (knee). Belcher says: "He's started behind the eight-ball. He didn't have a great off-season from all reports, training-wise. He's played three games and he's been in a losing team each time. That doesn't help." LUKE PATTEN - BULLDOGS No Tests. The outsider but consistently one of the best No.1s in the NRL. Belcher says: "It's nothing unusual for him to be playing great. He's a fine player. He brings the ball back well and he's a very good defender."