Drinking the Slater ade
Just four years away from his retirement and his 31st and final game for Queensland, Billy Slater is back in auburn as a coach.
He is the fourth coach Queensland has had in the past four years, with Kevvie Walters finishing in 2019, Wayne Bennett taking the reins in the series’ post-season win in 2020 and Paul Green overseeing the big loss from last year.
So can this first-timer bring the Shield back to Queensland for the first time since 2017 in a mid-season series?
We don’t know, of course, but it’s worth exploring the role of an Origin coach, and we can do that by looking at two of Billy’s from his playing days: Craig Bellamy and Mal Meninga.
Bellamy is in talks for the greatest coach of all time. He has brought unparalleled success to the Storm in his two decades as a Melbourne executive and has invented, reinvented and reinvented that team, winning three (legitimate) premierships along the way. His record win-lose record at Origin level? 2-7, including being swept in 2010†
Meninga, meanwhile, led the Raiders to mediocre success for five seasons, took a few years off, had the shortest political career in human history, returned to the league and won eight consecutive series as the Maroons coach.
Now Bellamy took on a legendary Queensland side and Meninga was in charge, but the point is that Origin coaching isn’t just about Xs and Os.
Meninga used the ‘Spirit’ of Origin with those teams, the first few of which were not the world beaters they have become. Slater has that knowledge of Origin and is known by anyone who has spent any time with him as a great thinker of the game, completely recreating the fullback in his image. He also spent enough years of his playing career injured that he effectively served as the Origin backs coach a few times.
And damn, if you don’t think he knows enough, he’s brought in Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston as his assistants.
The first year is always a huge unknown, but it’s also a kind of freestyle for the rook. And doesn’t that make it all the more exciting?