Courageous Slater conquers his fears
AS he sprinted to the try line against Brisbane Broncos on Friday night, Billy Slater soaked up the moment.
His 60th-minute try gave the Melbourne Storm a 14-0 lead and was effectively the matchwinning score to secure a place in next Sunday’s grand final.
Considering Slater missed most of the last two years due to shoulder surgeries, including the 2016 grand final, that moment was a glowing one for the 34-year-old fullback in his club’s 30-0 preliminary final win.
When Slater casts his mind back to grand final week last year, he doesn’t get such a good feeling.
At that time he was still regaining his strength in his shoulder and his team was preparing to take on Cronulla in a match he would be taking no part in.
But there were still club duties and Slater didn’t want to be involved in any of them, with the team photo an especially harrowing experience.
‘‘I remember one of the most awkward photos I have ever had was the grand final photo,’’ Slater recalled.
‘‘I think it was on the Tuesday and I honestly didn’t want to go but I was part of the team and I had to suck it up and get the photo.
‘‘It was very awkward getting into that room and getting the photo done but that’s the way it goes and we have people in our organisation going through that exact same thing like Cheyse Blair, Christian Welch and a few others.
‘‘I found the first few days of the week really tough and I didn’t know how to approach it.
‘‘There was one moment where I was driving in the car with my wife and I just thought ‘stop being selfish and thinking about myself’.
‘‘I had an opportunity to help the team and from that moment I wanted to do everything possible to help them prepare and I did that from then on.’’
Helping the Storm return to the grand final and being able to play is an enormous achievement for Slater, who admits he feared his shoulders would never let him regain his best form.
‘‘I honestly didn’t know if I would get back, didn’t know if my shoulder would let me but I was certainly willing to give it a crack,’’ Slater said.
‘‘And now we are here it is all worth it.’’
Storm coach Craig Bellamy praised his star fullback for his courage in returning to the field and maintaining his speed and production.
Slater has yet to commit to playing next season although hopes are building that he will play on.
‘‘I don’t think you have to be a Storm or Queensland or Australian supporter to enjoy what he GETTY IMAGES brings to a footy field,’’ Bellamy said.
‘‘Some of those tries he has scored have been unbelievable. As he has got older he gets wiser and finds better positions to score tries whereas as a kid he relied on that blinding pace he has got.
‘‘It’s just a great story how he has come back and how he will play in a grand final with what he has been through. I don’t know how he kept working as hard as he did to get back, there was no certainty he would be back.’’
‘ I honestly didn’t know if I would get back . . . ’ BILLY SLATER
Billy Slater reacts after scoring a decisive try for the Melbourne Storm against Brisbane in the preliminary final on Friday night.