It might be NRL grand final week, but Thursday was all about State of Origin. Brad Fittler dropped a bombshell and announced he was stepping down as NSW coach, just hours after Queensland revealed that Billy Slater had been re-signed for three more years.
The news about Slater came as a huge relief for Maroons fans and players after the Melbourne Storm champion revealed last month that he was seriously considering walking away from the job. Slater has won back-to-back Origin series over NSW, but admitted he wasn't sure if continuing in the role next season was the best thing for his family.
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"I don’t think I’ve ever said that I wouldn’t like to help the Queensland rugby league team. I’ve just got to make sure that it works," he said in August. "Selfishly, I’d love to coach on, that’s the easy answer, but I’m a husband, I’m a father, I run a small stud farm, we do that ourselves as a family.
“I’ve got to make sure that everything works and I can commit that time to the Queensland rugby league team. My management has started discussions with the QRL and hopefully they progress further and then I’ll sit down with my family and work out how it all works. There’s a lot more to it than me selfishly wanting to be coach of the Queensland rugby league team.”
Thankfully for fans, Slater and wife Nicole have obviously made it work. "Billy was a champion Origin player and knows what it takes to win at that level," Queensland Rugby League (QRL) CEO Ben Ikin said on Thursday.
"He was a player who thought his way through the contest, prepped well and came out of a great (Melbourne) system. He would have had a magnificent look at how Craig Bellamy coached and had the opportunity to work under Mal Meninga who was one of the great leaders in rugby league history, which he brought into his tenure as Maroons coach. I see elements of both Mal and Craig in Billy's coaching."
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Slater said it was "an incredible honour" to be Queensland coach for another three years. "I'm excited about the journey that this current group of players and staff have embarked upon," he said. "I believe they are only getting started. From the very beginning, I was drawn to this role because I deeply understand the importance of this team to all Queenslanders."
Slater played 31 Origin games for the Maroons and understands how important the team is to the public in Queensland. He is a major driver of fan days in regional centres around the state that have made the Maroons more than just a football team.
"That is the last layer," Ikin said. "Billy takes what this most elite of teams in Queensland is, and what it stands for, and connects that to the broader fan base across the state."
Awesome news … can’t wait til next year 😁
— ImNotNuts (@ImNotNuts2) September 28, 2023
Ledgend💜💛on ya Billy ….
— Northstorm (@Northstorm20) September 28, 2023
Thank goodness !
— Leesa Grier (@LGofNQ) September 28, 2023
This is the best news!!!
— Raine Larcom (@LarcomRaine) September 28, 2023
With Fittler stepping down on Thursday, the NSW Rugby League board are on the hunt for a new coach. Craig Bellamy and Ricky Stuart have been touted as the front-runners, with the NSW board urged to do away with the requirement that the State of Origin coach not be a full-time NRL coach as well. The chances of Bellamy re-taking the reins of the NSW team appear slim, but it would be a mouthwatering match-up of master and apprentice if he goes head-to-head with Slater at Origin level.
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