Gerard Sutton called time on the World Cup final, and Australia’s players threw their hands up in celebration.
After a gruelling Test against England and a season that started 11 months ago, Billy Slater was relieved.
“We’d had such a great tour,” he told NRL.com.
“England really played well, and they really put it to us. To hold on and hold on, the siren goes and know there was no more footy left in that year – it was a long year, and to pick up the World Cup trophy at the end of the year was just the icing on the cake I suppose.”
It wasn’t supposed to happen. Slater finally returned from two years of rehabbing his shoulder to get some prolonged time on the park. Not only did he play the whole season with the Storm, but he made a successful return to the Origin area and slotted back into the green and gold after a three-year absence.
He also had fun.
“I’ve been fortunate to be involved in many successful years and many fun years, but 2017 was certainly one – due to the fact I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen,” he said.
“What happened through injury the years before certainly contributed to how I felt when you reach the heights of a premiership, State of Origin or World Cup victory. It was a really good year to be part of the teams I was involved in and just individually, the path that I had to take to get there. I think that made it that little bit more special.”
Winning his second World Cup was a bonus. Slater had resigned himself to the fact that the Kangaroos’ 2013 triumph in England was his last chance at international rugby league’s biggest prize.
“With the World Cups – and missing the opportunity in 2008 (Australia went down 20-34 to New Zealand) – to be honest I thought 2013 was probably my last opportunity to win one,” he said.
“So that was a huge moment in my career. Winning games of footy and winning tours or competitions in England is fun anyway. But throw in the World Cup, and it was a great achievement.
“I think the older you get, the more you appreciate things. You understand that it is not going to last forever, and I’m probably closer to the end of my career – it’s just about enjoying those moments. Sometimes in our game, you can be guilty of moving on to the next challenge too quickly. It’s important to sit back and enjoy the good times because they are hard to come by.”
In a career playing for teams like Melbourne, Queensland and Australia, Slater has had plenty. But he knows he is coming to the end of his career.
What’s changed? He says he is more confident than he was in his early days.
“I’m more sure of what sort of player I am now,” he said.
“That’s probably one thing that’s changed along the years. I understand what it takes and what I have to sacrifice to become the best that I can be. I’m still hungry and keen to compete. Those sort of traits are always there, and the certainty around what I have to do and get done before the season starts.”
Apart from playing footy at fullback, Slater is also working hard to develop the younger players at the Storm, with Jahrome Hughes, Cameron Munster, Scott Drinkwater and Ryan Papenhuyzen the likely candidates to take over the No.1 jersey when Slater retires.
Some aren’t at NRL level yet which means an accelerated apprenticeship of sorts, something Slater says is necessary if the Storm wants to have a strong squad.
“We want to become the best club and team that we can be, therefore we have to help everyone out,” he said.
“We have to try and develop guys that are probably aren’t at the level just yet, and we have to get them to that level, because in our game, you can’t keep everyone.
“We see players leave every year and we’ve got to try and get other players up to the standard a little bit quicker.”