As State of Origin tries go, it was hard to top this one for sheer brilliance.
Queensland returned to Suncorp Stadium for Game Two of the 2004 Origin series trailing 1-0 after a field goal from unlikely hero Shaun Timmins had seen NSW sneak away with a 9-8 win in the series opener in Sydney three weeks earlier.
The Maroons were bolstered by the return of new captain Darren Lockyer, who had missed the first game with injury, and with his side trailing 12-10 midway through the second half it was the brilliant five-eighth who began one of the most memorable moments in Origin history.
Receiving the ball just shy of halfway, Lockyer grubbered in behind the line for a flying Billy Slater who picked up the ball, headed right then swerved back to the left, chipped over the top of NSW fullback Anthony Minichiello and received the perfect bounce as he dived over for a stunning Queensland try.
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“I can’t remember if Billy asked me to kick it, I told him I was going to kick it, or whether it was just one of those things that felt right,” Lockyer recalled this week. “I look at the footage and as I was going to the line, Billy was just screaming at the line at speed but whether it was a call or an instinctive thing for both of us, I’m not sure. All I know is that I did my bit and then it was all Billy. It will go down as one of the greatest Origin tries.”
One thing that still looms large in Lockyer’s memory is the sight of Slater racing away with the huge Suncorp crowd behind him.
“I remember when Billy took off and picked it up, I had a rear vision of it all and I thought “Oh my God, he’s going to kick this.” It’s one of those plays that very rarely come off. But with each moment – Billy picking up the first kick and then kicking again – with each moment the roar just got louder and louder.”
For Minichiello, who had no chance of stopping Slater’s moment of magic, the pain of seeing it all unfold has subsided somewhat. At the time, the sheer brilliance of it all was lost on the NSW custodian but these days he appreciates what he was part of.
“He tried to take me on the outside, albeit at full pace, but then chipped it back to his left and obviously it was the perfect chip. It bounced right up for him and he scored a great try,” Minichiello said.
“It was a pretty special try, no doubt about it, but at the time the focus is more on the game so you don’t think about it. But when you look back on the replays you do appreciate that it was pretty special.”
It was a memorable week in more ways than one for Slater. Three days later, he returned home to Innisfail to celebrate his 21st birthday party with proud locals lining the streets to celebrate his remarkable moment.
But it was the confidence youth brings that Lockyer credits for Slater backing himself.
“He was always talented and willing to take a risk so when you’ve got that confidence… he was happy to have a crack,” Lockyer said. “Fortune favours the brave and away he went.”