Cameron Smith knew that the Melbourne Storm had something special in Billy Slater very early in his NRL career.
In the lead up to Slater's 300th NRL game, Smith heaped praise on his teammate and close friend who he labelled by far the best fullback he has ever played with.
Having played at the same junior club in Queensland, Smith knew how physically gifted Slater was but it was his NRL debut in round one, 2003, that made him sit up and take notice.
"I think he was named in the centres but played fullback," Smith told reporters on Wednesday.
"We played Cronulla and we were getting beaten quite convincingly in the first half. I just remember Billy picking up the ball from dummy-half and I think he beat about four or five defenders to score in the corner.
"From that moment you just went 'Wow, he's beaten some quality first-graders here in his first game - this bloke could be pretty special'."
Slater will join the elite 300 NRL game club against Wests Tigers at AAMI Park on Saturday night after missing the Storm's opening round win due to a jarred shoulder.
The 34-year-old will become the 31st player to reach the milestone in the history of the game and the 12th to do it at one club.
He will be the third Storm player to pass the mark, joining Smith and former teammate Cooper Cronk.
At one time, Smith feared injuries would bring a premature end to his friend's career and marvelled at his ability to reclaim his best form after two shoulder reconstructions.
"For what he's done for this club and this game overall I think he deserves to be in that special group of 300," he said.
"It's a wonderful achievement particularly with what he's gone through.
"He had injuries early in his career, but with the two shoulder surgeries he had to go through there was a stage there where he didn't know if he was even going to play football again.
"For him to come back and have the season he had last year and to be playing his 300th is pretty special and I'm very proud to say that I've played in a lot of those matches with him."