When the blistering speed finally faded and his decorated playing career drew to a close, it was a matter of if, not when, he’d become Queensland coach.
Slater was appointed last September and admitted during his first camp as Maroons boss this week that he didn’t know the type of coach he’ll be.
SW foxsports.com.au contacted Slater’s former teammates and rivals to gain a greater insight into what everyone can expect from one of the most dominant players in Origin history.
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There were two recurring themes, the first was Slater’s burning desire to win at all costs, and the second was he leaves nothing to chance – including those history-defining big plays.
Slater won a staggering 11 Origin series in 12 years during his illustrious 31-game Maroons career and was named the player of the series twice.
That never-to-be-repeated run of Queensland success was shared alongside Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston, who Slater has appointed as his assistants.
NSW have won three of the past four series but Maroons great Brent Tate believes just like in Slater’s playing career – his timing is impeccable.
“He’s exactly what we need right now as a Queensland team. Timing is everything and it’s time,” Tate said.
here foxsports.com.au analyzes why Billy Slater’s Origin dominance can continue in the coaches box, ahead of the 2022 series opener on Wednesday night.
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The good Origin players deliver over a series, the greats do it for a decade.
Slater was central to the most dominant Origin period in history, when Queensland dropped just one series between 2006 and 2017.
There were plenty of talented players on both sides of the park during that era, but any good sports psychologist will tell you those series were almost all decided by one thing – mentality.
“Billy just gets what it’s about,” Tate told foxsports.com.au.
“He knows the environment he has to create and how he has to get the players to Wednesday night.
“Origin is not about coaching, it’s about creating a culture and an environment for the boys to be happy and flourish in and get them to believe in the cause.
“Billy has got that ingredient. He genuinely believes it, knows it and loves it.
“I have no doubt that Billy can be a really successful Origin coach for a long time.”
Slater was known for his professionalism but Tate said his even greater ability was knowing when to switch off.
“Very professional but always in and among the fun too,” Tate said.
“A very likeable fella. He’s just got all the ingredients.”
Corey Parker, who played 19 games for Queensland, echoed that sentiment and said his former teammate Slater was one of the great relationship builders in Maroons camps.
“He was never all business and that was his great balance,” Parker said.
“Understanding when you can have fun and relax and be yourself, but then also understanding when it’s time to switch on.
“Through the successful Origin run we had, it was important that when you got your down time to really enjoy that and then switch on when it’s time to train.
“Relationships are really big in Origin, you want to play for the guys besides you but more importantly play for the state and the coach.
“He understands that and there’s enough senior players inside that group now that also understand that.”
Queensland’s list of coaches over the years is littered with the most respective figures in the history of the game.
Mal Meninga, Wayne Bennett and Arthur Beetson all enjoyed plenty of success, and Tate believes Slater’s name will sit right there alongside them when it’s all said and done.
“Timing is everything and I think Billy has taken over at a really good time,” Tate said.
“They’ll flourish under Billy because he’ll create an environment where they can all flourish and play to their strengths.
“He has the respect of all of them and really early on they’ll know what he’s trying to create and how he’s going to do it.
“He’ll provide an environment where Cam Munster can be Cam Munster, where Kalyn Ponga can be the best version of Kalyn Ponga and that’s what Origin is about, giving them that platform to be able to be the best they can be.
“They’ll all know, if they don’t know by now, that when Billy talks footy he knows his sh*t.”
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WILL TO WIN
Slater is known as one of the best blokes in rugby league but even the politely-spoken little fullback was prone to some white-line fever.
Former Kangaroos and Blues five-eighth Braith Anasta squared off against Slater in five Origin series and remembers him as the fiercest of rivals.
“As a competitor on the field he was tough, he was uncompromising, he was winning at all costs,” Anastas told foxsports.com.au.
“A very confident player. I have loved a bit of chat on the field, there’s no doubt about that, but I backed it up.”
Parker wasn’t surprised by Anasta’s assessment and said the pair gave as good as they got.
“You’re competing on everything, right. Billy was regarded as the best fullback in the game and he copped extra heat every now and then as part of what you do – you give a bit of curry back,” Parker said.
“Braith probably copped a bit of curry because Braith didn’t mind a sledge every now and then also, so it’s all part and parcel of the game – it’s why we love it.
“Billy wouldn’t have sledged when they were losing, you only sledge when you’re winning and Billy won plenty.”
Anasta said that Slater became one of the game’s greats because of his work ethic and believes that relentless approach will bring plenty of success to coaching.
“He had to work really hard on his game, like when he first came into grade he was naturally really quick but his work ethic was incredible over his career and he got to a point where his passing game,” Anasta said.
“He didn’t have much of a passing game when he started and by the end he was throwing cut-outs and short little deft passes and his skill level just came on so far over his time as a player that he became one of the greats, one of the best fullbacks to ever play our game.
“As a coach, his work ethic, his tenacity, his will to win, but also he’s been there and done it, the players will definitely respond and play for him because he’s been there and done it.
“You can’t question anything that Billy Slater does because he’s such a consummate professional.
“I think the players will respond and the players will want to win for him and won’t leave anything on the field.
“I expect him to be very successful.”
MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK
Slater was never afraid to take the game by the scruff of the neck and produce a gobsmacking play that often blew the game wide open.
Queensland’s greatest fullback has a long list of game-breaking plays, but perhaps none more famous than his chip-and-chase try in his debut series in 2004.
The iconic try proved the difference as Slater was named man-of-the-match in just his second Origin appearance.
Parker made his Maroons debut in that game and said even back then as a 20-year-old, Slater made his own luck.
“Risks are only involved if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Parker said.
“If Billy came up with a play, that because he’s identified a weakness or chink in the defense, it’s not just a spur of the moment thing.
“It’s talked about, it’s practiced and then it’s executed. It’s not a go out there and say ‘sh*t I hope it works’. It’s ‘this is what I’ve seen, this is what we can do’, then he’ll practice it first and then throw the big play in.”
Tate, who made 23 Maroons appearances between 2002 and 2014, witnessed Slater’s meticulous preparation for over a decade.
“The thing with Billy was that he would have practiced that play 500 times, so in Billy’s mind it wasn’t a big play,” Tate said.
“If Billy was going to pull the trigger on a play, Billy would have practiced that play. That’s just how he was.
“Throwing a long ball or chasing through a kick, we sit there and think it’s a big play but I guarantee Billy would have practiced that so in his mind it’s not a big play to him.
“It’s a calculated risk because I have practiced it.
“He was an entertainer, he had speed and that’s how he played but nobody worked harder or practiced harder than Billy Slater.”
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Slater almost always made the most of his chances as a player, and his former rivals and teammates alike are expecting the same from him as a coach.
But Parker emphasized there’s only one way to create those chances, and that’s through sheer hard work.
“Origin is not always about having the best player and flashy plays. It’s about the basic fundamentals in big games that always stand up,” Parker said.
“Billy models his own game on that, that being effort, that being competing, that being preparation, understanding the opposition to the enth degree.
“At some point throughout a game you’ll be required to delve into that bit of information and that’s what he’ll be instilling into the team.
“Because it’s such a limited preparation, the big flashy plays will come, some basic individual talent will come, but it always comes off the back of being prepared for what you’re going in for, understanding what you’re going in for but also having that ability and desire to fight for everything you can possibly get.
“I think that’s why we’ve seen some new fresh faces in the team. While their form warrants them being in the squad, they all adhere to those traits and habits and that’s Origin, that’s what Origin is about.
“Billy, along with Cam and JT, will certainly instil that along with the history that is really important.
“Ultimately when there’s a place your body doesn’t want you to go, but you find a way, that’s Origin.
“He said during the week he doesn’t know what type of coach he’ll be but one thing you can be assured of is there will be no stone left unturned.
“He’ll be 100 per cent committed to the cause in regards to preparation and that’s all you can do.”
Tate added: “We all know his attention to detail is spot on, that’s how he played his career and that’s how he’s tackling this job.”
The series kicks off in Sydney on Wednesday before heading to Perth on June 26 and a potential decider to be played at Suncorp Stadium on July 13.