Queensland coach Billy Slater is hoping to have every answer for New South Wales in the State of Origin opener, but the rookie mentor was stumped when asked a tricky question on the day he selected his squad.
The legendary fullback was a crucial member of the Maroons’ famous eight-year reign spanning 2006 to 2013, combining with the likes of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk and Sam Thaiday for the greatest Origin dynasty yet.
When Slater and Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans spoke to Nine’s 100% Footy from the Queensland camp on Monday night, it opened the door for Sydney Morning Herald reporter Michael Chammas to fire a left-field question.
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“I spoke to Nicho Hynes, your protege,” Chammas said.
“He said that he grew up hating you. He said that he went through his whole high-school time there. None of his friends celebrated an Origin series victory. I just realised there’s a whole group of NSW players who grew up despising you.
“Do you realise the impact what, I guess, your time as a player had on a lot of these guys coming through in the NSW set-up?”
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Slater was stunned.
“That’s a great question, Michael,” he said as laughter broke out.
“I’ve got a lot of love from Nicho. He’s spent a lot of time down at the Melbourne Storm and I did a lot of work with him, so I don’t know if ‘hate’ is the right word.
“Great question. I haven’t really thought about it that way.”
Hynes was born and raised on the Central Coast of NSW but cut his teeth in the NRL with Melbourne.
He couldn’t have wished for a better tutor as a rising fullback than Slater, whose legendary 319-game NRL career was in its twilight years.
Slater was his typically humble self as he reflected on the Queensland dominance that agonised Hynes and his schoolmates.
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“When you’re a player you go out there and you do your best, and that’s what I felt I did when I was a player,” Slater said.
“I tried to do my best every time, I tried to become a better player all the time.
“And hopefully that’s what I can do as a coach. I can help our players become the best they can be for that 80-minute period on the eighth of June. That’s our goal: to assist our players become the best as a team and as an individual.”
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