Slater’s long road back to NRL grand final

Billy Slater never contemplated hanging up his boots and now has a chance to complete one of the great comebacks in next week’s NRL grand final.

Just 12 months ago, the champion Melbourne, Queensland and Australian fullback cut an awkward figure as he arrived at club headquarters for the Storm’s grand final photo.

After undergoing a second successive shoulder reconstruction earlier in the year, Slater only took the field once during 2016 and, even though he didn’t take part in the season decider against Cronulla, he was ordered to be there for the team photo.

By his own admission, the exercise made him extremely uncomfortable as he felt he had no right to be there.

Slater endured a wretched run of luck, playing just one game in 671 days from May 2015 to March this year after back-to-back injuries to his right shoulder.

Lesser men would have hung up the boots. Slater says he was at times tested physically, but mentally he never thought about giving in.

“Not close at all,” he said when asked how close he came to retiring during his two-year lay-off.

“I never thought I was going to give up. I didn’t know what my body was thinking but my mind was not giving up.”

For two years Slater toiled on his own to get his body right and halfback Cooper Cronk said he had never seen anyone work harder to get back on the park.

After returning this year, he has defied his critics to rediscover his best, playing a leading hand in Queensland’s State of Origin series win and helping the Storm to a second straight grand final.

During Friday’s 30-0 preliminary final thumping of Brisbane, he crossed for his 181st and 182nd career four-pointers to go past Steve Menzies on the all-time try-scoring list. He now sits behind only behind Ken Irvine (212).

Asked if playing in another grand final drove him during his long and torturous rehabilitation, Slater said: “Not just playing in a grand final, I love playing rugby league, I love running out for the Melbourne Storm, for Queensland and Australia as well.

“That enjoyment drove me. I was willing to put in that hard work to get back.

“Did I know I was going to get back? No. I honestly didn’t know if my shoulder was going to get stronger or if it was going to let me.”

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