Billy Slater during State of Origin II.

Slater's journey back to Origin complete

A lot can change in 12 months. 

Cast your minds back to Round 1 of the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership Season and you will remember the return of Billy Slater from a serious shoulder injury. 

Sounds familiar right? 

What was meant to be his triumphant return looked to be going completely to plan, with the Melbourne star laying on a try assist in the Storm's two-point win over the St. George Illawarra Dragons. 

It looked like the Slater of old had returned, with his silky smooth passing and sublime footwork once again gracing the NRL arena. 

But looks can be deceiving, for Slater knew throughout the match that something was not quite right, even if he was playing well above the expectations anyone had put on him. 

In the days after, information filtered through various media channels that Slater would be out for an indefinite amount of time because of the same shoulder that had ruled him out for the previous nine months. 

His body was not right and the news was devastating for the Australian international. 

This time around it would be a 12-month stint on the sidelines for Slater, with the Queensland Maroons fullback not returning until Round 3 of this season. 

Understandably nervous and rusty, Slater struggled in that match against the Brisbane Broncos, making two errors as he tried almost too hard to make up for lost time. 

But something was different this time around and it was not just in how Slater played, but how he felt. 

Despite a performance he was not happy with, the 33-year-old came off the field with a smile on his face, relieved that he had completed an NRL match without any injury complaints for the first time in over 20 months. 

 


Speaking to media in the lead up to Game Two of this year's State of Origin series, Slater opened up about his Round 3 return and the emotions he felt. 

"It was a different feeling," Slater said. 

"I was really nervous going into that game and made a few mistakes and didn't play my best but I've never played that bad and felt that good after a game. 

"It was a really weird feeling. I was just so happy to get through the game. 

"Twelve months earlier I was in the same situation and I walked off that field knowing something was wrong. I felt pretty good to finish that game."

Slater is now on the verge of making his long awaited return to the Origin arena after two long years. 

He will start at fullback for Queensland, a just reward for all the hard work and dedication he has showed to make it back to one of the highest levels of rugby league. 

And for Slater, this makes it all worth it. 

"Playing rugby league was my sole motivation," he said.  

"Obviously I wanted to get my shoulder back as strong as possible for life in general but once I knew I could play rugby league again I just wanted to get back and enjoy the game. 

"I've been able to do that and now I'm fortunate enough to wear a Maroon jersey again which I've always really enjoyed doing. I'll be looking forward to next Wednesday night."

 


Slater has found support from another Queensland legend in Johnathan Thurston, with the North Queensland Cowboys halfback having missed a number of games this season due to a niggling shoulder injury. 

Thurston was even forced to miss Game One, struggling for weeks to get his dodgy shoulder back to full fitness. 

But he is back for Game Two and the future immortal cannot wait to run out with one of the toughest football players he knows. 

"It just shows the type of character that he is, tough and resilient," Thurston said. 

"He looks after himself on and off the field and it's good to see him back to his best and playing some good footy. 

"I haven't watched too much football but from what I've heard he's certainly got a spring in his step and he's looking pretty sharp. 

"I am looking forward to working alongside him again this week."