Dreamer Slater became the real thing
ONCE a small kid with big dreams, Billy Slater will end his Origin career tonight having sealed a place as one of Queensland's greats.
Slater was just four years old when he started playing rugby league on the rain-soaked fields of Innisfail, Far North Queensland.
Brought up in a footy-mad household in a town built as much on the pride in its rugby league players as its sugar and banana industries, Slater idolised pint-sized Maroon Allan Langer and dreamed of one day emulating his feat of playing for Queensland.
Tonight he will end his representative career captaining Queensland in his 31st Origin game, 14 years after making his debut.
It is a fitting way for one of thegame's greats to go out.
"I had pretty good dreams when I was a kid, so I probably did (dream I'd be here)," Slater said.
"I dreamt I was Allan Langer running around the backyard and kicking the footy and scoring tries and that kind of stuff.
"That was just my childhood.
"This is the jersey that I dreamt of playing in when I was a little boy and I'm so grateful and privileged to have this opportunity.
"I'm 35 now and I've played rugby league all my life, since I was four years old, and I'm pretty lucky to be able to do it as a job."
But Slater doesn't want the focus to be on him.
"I've thought about walking out of the tunnel and what I'm going to be feeling, but it's been a big part of my life for the last 14 years and I just feel super grateful and privileged to have been able to achieve what I've achieved," he said.
"To be a member of the teams that I've been a member of and to have had the success that we've had, it's been such a great ride and I'm sure a few emotions will run through my body when I do run out and sing the national anthem.
"But hopefully we can go out there and make it a memorable occasion, not just for myself but for my family and for the team."
Slater will equal Wally Lewis on 31 games, having already become one of the few Queensland players to reach the "Statesman's Club".
"That was pretty important to me, obviously, playing 30 games last game," Slater said.
"There's not too many players that get to play 30 Origins - that's 10 years straight without missing a game," he said. "It's hard to do that at NRL level let alone at Origin level, there's only three a year, so I'm very proud of that."
It's more than a decade since Slater produced one of the greatest individual tries in Origin history with his chip and chase at Suncorp Stadium.
But he will be satisfied with just playing his role tonight.
"I hope I can play my part for the team," he said. "I've always wanted to contribute as much as I can and this is no different.
"I don't want to go out there and try and be someone that I'm not or do someone else's job just because I'm captain.
"I want to go out there and perform my role and hopefully we have 17 contributors play a good brand of football and come away with the win."