The respect for Billy Slater runs on both sides of the Queensland-NSW border. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty
The respect for Billy Slater runs on both sides of the Queensland-NSW border. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty

Maroons must lift for Slater, says Lockyer

QUEENSLAND great Darren Lockyer has implored the Maroons to "roll their sleeves up" to send their stand-in skipper out on a high.

Maroons selector Lockyer says the hosts must not "fall into the trap" of thinking Suncorp Stadium will provide the impetus needed to send retiring hero Billy Slater off triumphant tonight.

The superstar fullback will play his 31st and last game for his state when Queensland attempts to avoid a series whitewash in game three against NSW in Brisbane.

Lockyer said coach Kevin Walters would use Slater's farewell as a motivating factor, but added a strong word of caution.

"Kevvie, by nature, is an emotional person," he said.

"Although a lot of those guys haven't gone the journey with Billy, he's revered by them. They fully respect him.

Maroons coach Kevin Walters will use Billy Slater's Origin finale to motivate the Queensland players. Picture: AAP
Maroons coach Kevin Walters will use Billy Slater's Origin finale to motivate the Queensland players. Picture: AAP

"But you've got to remind yourself that (while) Billy means a lot to us, (and) we want to send him out a winner, for that to happen we've got to roll our sleeves up, each and every one us, and have a red-hot crack.

"If we think that it's Billy last game and the crowd's going to get us home, you're in a dangerous area."

Lockyer was of course there for Slater's second Origin appearance in game two, 2004, helping create a legend by setting him up to score one of the great tries of all time. Slater had run on to a Lockyer grubber kick, before chipping over the head of Anthony Minichiello, regathering and diving across the line.

"That was all him," Lockyer recalled. "That's one of those moments that will go down in Origin folklore.

"People will remember that try, but for me, I will remember his longevity at that level. If you stand the test of time in the toughest arena, it shows you've got a lot champion qualities.

"You look at the last game, and how much of a difference he made. The speed he's still got at 35, the impact he can still have at that age, that's pretty rare."

Slater started his Origin career on the wing before making fullback his own - Lockyer's position for 16 games before he himself was shifted to five-eighth in 2004.

"You just knew that if you gave him half a chance he'll convert for you. He just had that speed and that football nous," Lockyer said.

"But like (Johnathan) Thurston, for all the brilliance there's a toughness about them.

"Billy's a tough bugger."

Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater share a trait in the toughness stakes. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP
Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater share a trait in the toughness stakes. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP

Lockyer admits he didn't quite foresee the great that Slater - then two days shy of his 21st birthday - would become on that fateful night 14 years ago.

"Billy was an exciting player but I don't think anyone envisaged he would have played at that level for as long as he has," he said. "It's a credit to him."

Heralding the end of an era, Slater will join fellow members of the "big four" - Smith, Thurston and Cooper Cronk - in representative football retirement.

But while injured wonder kid Kalyn Ponga looks set to assume Slater's responsibilities in the No.1, other players will push their claims tonight for future selection.

"(With such) a loss of experience, a loss of leadership, it was always going to be a challenging period for the team," Lockyer said. "Cameron Munster stamped his authority on the six last year, (Andrew) McCullough's in the nine. There's probably a few guys vying for the seven jersey.

"The previous guys, they owned the jerseys. Outside of Kalyn I don't think anyone can say they own that jersey."

Daly Cherry-Evans will look to justify the selectors' faith in him after being preferred in the No.7 over Ben Hunt, who has been benched, and the untried Ash Taylor.

"There's been a lot of criticism of Ben," Lockyer said.

"Ben, I think, still has a long-term position within the group ... in the 14. Whether he plays in the halves or back-up hooker, he's got a utility factor about him

"Daly's been waiting in the wings and got an opportunity now. Michael Morgan (sidelined with injury) will come into calculations next year."

News Corp Australia


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