Billy Slater scores a memorable try in the 2004 Origin series.
Billy Slater scores a memorable try in the 2004 Origin series.

Meninga: Brilliant Billy simply the best

WHICH moment from Billy Slater's career sums him up best in your eyes?

If you're like most people, the first image that comes to your mind is that incredible try he scored as a young kid on the wing for Queensland in 2004.

It is still considered one of the greatest tries in Origin history.

In just his second Origin game, and still only 20 years of age, Slater burst through to regather a kick from Darren Lockyer.

He then accelerated towards NSW fullback Anthony Minichiello, audaciously chip-kicked over his opponent's head in the opposite direction, and then won the race to the ball to score the try with a perfectly timed dive.

It was like seeing a preview trailer for the next 14 years of Slater's career.

There was the ability to read the game that had him in the right position to take advantage of Locky's kick, the blinding speed to get to the ball, and the football instinct to see the chip-kick was the right option.

There was also the courage and confidence to back himself to deliver such an all-or-nothing play. And, of course, there was the unmatched skill to get it right.

It was Billy's entire career compressed into nine seconds of brilliance.

As good as it was - and every Queensland would agree, it was unbelievably good - I don't know if it did the job of summing him up completely.

A left-field suggestion might be his appearance on a TV show.

In 2009, Billy was one of the all-star contestants on a sporting game show called Australia's Greatest Athlete.

It took a selection of elite athletes from a host of sports, and made them compete in challenges as varied as golf, cricket, rugby league, AFL, bench press and rock climbing to see who was Australia's best all-round sportsman.

Slater cut his teeth at Origin level under Meninga.
Slater cut his teeth at Origin level under Meninga.

In the first season, Billy was up against incredible athletes like Ky Hurst, Jamie Whincup, Andrew Symonds, Lote Tuqiri and Olympian Steve Hooker.

Every athlete won at least one challenge. Billy finished on the podium 11 times out of 15 events, and won the competition by 300 points.

He then backed up the next year, and won the second series as well.

What that showed to me was that he could have been a star in any sport of his choosing because of his competitiveness, preparation and dedication.

His teammates will tell you it was these qualities that made him so great.

In every game he played, Billy did his homework.

Yes, he was naturally brilliant. But every time he went on to the field, he knew where his opponents liked to kick, how long they could kick for, and where he needed to be to cause the most damage bringing the ball back.

Slater has lived hard work his whole career. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.
Slater has lived hard work his whole career. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.

Billy said in his press conference that Craig Bellamy taught him that the harder he worked, the luckier he would get.

Billy learnt the lesson early, and lived it every day.

Billy was not spotted as a teenage prodigy and groomed for stardom.

He was told he was too small to make it, and he should quit while he was ahead.

He turned up to tryout for a trial anyway. Every time someone told him he couldn't, he just worked harder to prove that he could.

That determination shone through during the darkest days of his career, when he had two seasons wiped out because of recurring shoulder injuries many feared could end his career.

He fought so hard to get the injury right, and then had to go through the mental anguish of starting from scratch when the shoulder failed again.

He fought back. He won a premiership with Melbourne, a World Cup with Australia and played his 31st Origin game for Queensland as captain of the Maroons.

I always tell people that Billy's attacking brilliance often overshadowed the real characteristics that made him so great: His courage, his defence, and his talk on the field.

The injuries Slater overcame could have ended his career. Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images.
The injuries Slater overcame could have ended his career. Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images.

The way he would communicate to his teammates - telling defenders where to stand to plug holes in the line, telling Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk or Johnathan Thurston where he would be running in attack and which shoulder he would be running off - was a huge factor in Queensland's success during my time as coach.

As impressive as his actions were, his words were just as impressive.

That was epitomised after last year's grand final, when he fought back tears delivering a speech after being awarded the Clive Churchill Medal.

In a moment of personal glory, Billy could not contain his emotion as he talked about his family, and how the love and support of his wife Nicole and his children had lifted him back to the top of the tree.

"I love you, Darl," he said as he wiped away tears.

That was the moment that sums up the Billy Slater I know: Brilliant in every sense of the word, grateful, respectful, humble, and always mindful of the things that really matter.

Thanks, Billy.



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