QUEENSLAND coach Kevin Walters has challenged his Maroons to step up another notch in this year’s State of Origin series to cover for the loss of injured fullback Billy Slater.
In a devastating blow for Slater, who missed most of last season after a shoulder reconstruction in June, the Melbourne Storm star has been told he will miss all of this year as well after re-injuring the same shoulder in his NRL comeback match in Round 1.
Slater has had another bout of surgery to repair the latest damage to his rotator cuff, meaning another eight months of rehab for the 32-year-old.
It means Slater’s bid to reclaim the Queensland No.1 jersey he forfeited last year will remain on hold for another 12 months.
New Maroons coach Walters makes no secret of his admiration for Slater, and says the rest of the Queensland team will need to share the load in making up the qualities Slater brings to the team at Origin time.
“Billy has revolutionised the way fullbacks play – they are all based on the Slater model now,” Walters told fogs.com.au.
“And I think that makes sense for anyone playing that position. If you can model your own game on what Billy does, then you are heading in the right direction.
“He is a big loss for Queensland – bigger than what people think.
“People see his brilliant attacking runs and great defence on the goal-line, but he brings so many things to every team he plays in, and they are hard to replace.
“I know from a coaching point of view, having worked with him at the Melbourne Storm and at Origin level, just how much he brings to a team.
“And it’s not just on the field either, it’s the things he does off the field like his professionalism, his leadership.
“Whichever team he plays for, when Billy is missing that means someone is going to have to take up the slack there from within the 17.
“Everyone in the Queensland team is going to have to share that load a bit because Billy just brings so much to the team.”
Walters said despite Slater’s poor recent run with injuries, the fullback’s long-term durability playing at the highest level left him in no doubt he would not only get back on the field, but reclaim his Queensland jersey as well.
“I know he missed last year’s Game III, but prior to that there would not have been too many games that Billy had missed during that 10-year period in Origin,” Walters said.
“He is a dominant force on the field and around the group, and gets on with everyone so well because he is such a likeable fellow.
“He knows how to win, and he does win.
“Not having Billy there this year is a big loss for us, absolutely. But I know we haven’t seen the last of Billy Slater.”