The irrepressible Billy Slater will be in rare company when he plays his 30th game for QLD on Sunday in a must win game against the Blues.
He will become the 11th player to join the illustrious “30 Club” for QLD along with Cameron Smith, Jonathon Thurston, Darren Lockyer, Greg Inglis, Petero Civinoceva, Mal Meninga, Wally Lewis, Alan Langer, Cooper Cronk and Nate Myles.
And he will become only the 8th player to have played 30 Origins and 30 Tests for the Kangaroos – culminating in his final appearance in the World Cup winning team in 2017.
I can recall Billy making his debut for Melbourne way back in Rd 1 2003 on the wing – before he moved to his preferred position at fullback and was the NRL’s leading try scorer with 19.
He has scored an astonishing 187 tries in his 15 year career – and only sits 2nd behind the great Ken Irvine who scored a record 212.
Billy has changed the way fullbacks have played in the modern era and has developed a superb all -round game – which has been built upon his supreme level of fitness, speed, footwork and football intelligence.
What has impressed me most about Billy has been his love of the game, his endurance and his competitive spirit.
I have watched him develop into one of the great leaders of the QLD and Kangaroos teams’ over the past 10 years and he has become an exceptional on-field communicator.
His work ethic is 2nd to none and I am not surprised he will be close to 100% fit for one of the most important games of his career.
I remember talking to Billy in 2014 (as an assist QLD coach) suggesting that he should back off his training a touch when he had a tight hamstring – to which he replied “I train flat out and I play flat out” which is how he prepares for every game of footy he is involved in.
As a proud Queenslander he will be setting the standard for his team on Sunday, he will be playing “flat out” and showing plenty of ticker – like he always does – when he pulls that Maroon jumper on.
The stand-alone rep weekend provides some tremendous opportunities for players to mix with better players and coaches as they take a break from the demands of the NRL competition.
NRL coaches and high-performance managers will have their fingers crossed and must hold some reservations about taking some players to the US for an International game between NZ and the Poms.
Post Origin and International game management will be critical to all teams, in particular the teams at the top of the ladder including St George, Souths, the Panthers and the Warriors who are providing a lion’s share of players.
History has shown that Melbourne, the Roosters and the Broncos – who sit outside the top four – traditionally finish the year off more strongly than their rivals and will be looking to make up some lost ground in the closing rounds.
Taking in to account that Cameron Smith (who looked a lot more energized against Newcastle last week), Cooper Cronk and Darius Boyd have all retired from rep footy – I would not be surprised to see these teams featuring strongly in the play-offs.
The Knights, who have suffered a run of injuries, will be sweating on the fitness of Kalyn Ponga (QLD), Slade Griffin and Herman Ese Ese (NZ) before they tackle the Bulldogs next Saturday in a must win game at Hunter Stadium.