Following in the footsteps of Brendon Tuuta would be a daunting prospect for any loose forward. Joining a club amidst the trauma of enforced demotion from the Super League would be equally onerous. But the hard-working Richard Slater was unfazed by this background noise, and gave four years of solid service to Featherstone Rovers from 1995 to 1999.
Born in Normanton, Richard Slater signed for Wakefield Trinity as a teenager. He quickly made his mark there, playing the Yorkshire Cup final in 1992 and representing Great Britain Under 21s. He played alongside future Rovers player and coach Gary H. Price and also Australian legend Ray Price, who once memorably described young Slater as ‘pound for pound, the best tackler in the league’. He played a total of 134 games at the Belle Vue club, and when he became available, Rovers snapped him up for a considerable fee. He made his debut on the 1st of November 1995 in the most inauspicious fashion, a midweek game at home to Rochdale during the much disliked centenary season. Rovers contrived to lose the game 24-16 although Slater did score the only try for Rovers that evening.
From then on, he offered a model of consistency during a turbulent period both for the club and the sport as a whole. His forte was his tackling, a classic round-the-legs technique which never failed him. Defending in the middle, he always got through a lot of work, although not the biggest of forwards. In the first summer season, he missed just two games, and packed down behind a very experienced second-row combination of Roy Powell and Jon Sharp. During the following season, he lost his place following a knee injury, and Danny Evans filled in for the rest of the season so successfully that Slater found it hard to break back into the team. In 1998 he was back as first choice pick at loose forward and had another hard-working campaign which resulted in Rovers coming within a cat’s whisker of super league, only to be denied by Richard’s former club Wakefield.
For the 1999 season, Rovers re-signed kiwi loose forward and local hero Brendon Tuuta, but Slater kept his place at the back of the scrum, with Tuuta now operating at second-row, and even occasionally at prop. At the end of the 1999 season and after four years of sterling service, Slater moved on to Hull Kingston Rovers where he spent a couple of years, before finishing with two seasons at Dewsbury. In total he played 111 games for Featherstone and scored a modest 12 tries.
In some ways, Slater’s departure and the subsequent retirement a few years later of Danny Evans marked the end of the old-fashioned role of the loose forward. From then on, ever more prevalent were coaching tactics that included a third prop at the back of the scrum. The ball handling skills of previous generations of number thirteens were now the preserve of half-backs and hookers at acting half-back, and the loose forward role became less distinguishable from that of prop or second-row.