In the summer leading into the 2003 NRL season, a baby-faced 19-year-old drove from Sydney to Melbourne looking for an NRL trial.
This kid had been an apprentice jockey, running track work for esteemed trainer Gai Waterhouse, before a growth spurt left him seeking an alternate career path.
The trial was granted, impressions were made and come round one against Cronulla, Billy Slater was playing for the Storm.
“It is the one game that really stands out,” said Slater.
“We were actually 22-nil down in the first half in that game and we came back and won the game.
“That was a special occasion and certainly is one that stays in the memory bank.”
Slater would go on to play every game that season, scoring 19 tries, in a rookie year that is up there with the best of them.
Now entering his 12th season of first grade football, Slater now comfortably stands among the games modern day greats and on Saturday will play his 250th game in purple – becoming just the third player to do so alongside Matt Geyer and current club captain Cameron Smith.
“Milestones come and go but the memories stay with you forever. I am very proud to play 250 games for this club,” said Slater
“You don’t remember too many games of those 250 but the milestones are the ones you do remember so hopefully we can make it a special one for us.”
The 30-year-old’s milestone will coincide with Smith playing game number 263 – eclipsing Geyer as the club’s games record holder.
The side is choc full of confidence following last weekend’s dramatic comeback win against Manly, coupled with the re-signing of Smith for a further four years.
Slater admitted that his captain’s decision to stay in Melbourne beyond this season, rather than return to Queensland, has been a huge morale boost for everyone at Melbourne.
“It’s just great for the club,” said Slater.
“Everyone involved with the club, whether you’re a supporter, working in the administration or a player at the Melbourne Storm, it is great news to have Cameron Smith on board for the rest of his career.
“It keeps the club in good hands as a leadership sense and I’m sure Cam will have an occupation at this club past football.”
Asked further whether that occupation may be as head coach of the Storm one day the answer was pretty clear.
“I’ve got no doubt that he could coach any club,” said Slater.
“He’s a great thinker of the game, he knows what it takes to get a side prepared, he could coach the side now if he had to.”
Slater himself comes off contract at the end of next season and says Smith’s decision to re-sign would have an influence on other teammates making a similar choice.
“I am sure other guys off contract look at Cam’s situation and see a guy like Cam who will be leading the side for the next five years, they will want to be a part of that,” said Slater.
“It certainly is an incentive at the club when you’ve got players and people like Cameron Smith involved.”
Slater will bring up his 250th game at 5.30pm this Saturday afternoon at AAMI Park against Penrith.