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NRL fans rally around Billy Slater amid new details about devastating family tragedy

The NRL champion's former teammate Cameron Smith has shed new light on what happened.

NRL legend Cameron Smith has provided heartbreaking new details about the death of Billy Slater's brother-in-law Ryan Craig. A devoted husband and father, Mr Craig drowned in a boating accident in Kinchant Dam near Mackay on Saturday.

Mr Craig, who is married to Slater's sister Sheena, was boating with his wife and their four children when he went into the water and attempted to rescue his nine-year-old daughter, who had reportedly gone overboard after the boat broke down. The girl was rescued by a jet-skier who was nearby, but Mr Craig couldn't be located.

Billy Slater and family.
Billy Slater and his wife are mourning the death of their brother-in-law Ryan Craig (second from L). Image: Sheena Craig/AAP

It has since been confirmed that the actions of Mr Craig saved his daughter's life, however he lost his in the process. The body of the devoted husband and father was recovered on Monday after an extensive search operation by police.

It has since been revealed that the family boat broke down and later went underwater due to poor weather conditions. It remains unclear why the boat had broken down.

Sheena and the four children were taken to safety, with the nine-year-old transported to Mackey Base Hospital as a precaution. After a 48-hour search involving police and volunteers, Mr Craig's body was located on Monday morning.

Senior sergeant Trevor Robson said: "Obviously (the family) is very upset about what's happened and we can only imagine the trauma they're going through. You wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy."

Inspector Glenn Cameron said: “The actions of the man who is now deceased saved his young daughter’s life. We do implore people to be as safe as possible on the water. Enjoy the environment, but do it in a safe way.

“Our thoughts are with the family who’ve lost a loved one in these tragic circumstances. We never want to see something like this happen.”

Ryan Craig, pictured here with his family.
Ryan Craig is being remembered as a devoted husband and father. Images: Facebook

Cameron Smith lifts lid on Billy Slater phone call after tragedy

Discussing the tragedy on Wednesday morning, Slater's former teammate and close friend Smith shed new light on what happened. “I found out Monday morning about this absolute tragedy," Smith said on his podcast. "They live very close to the dam where Ryan tragically passed away. And it’s their regular place where they just go for family outings.

“I rang Billy and spoke with him and he just said, ‘Look, it’s an absolutely tragic (set of) circumstances, given the situation’. It’s somewhere they spend a lot of time with the kids growing up. They’ve got four kids. They’ve got four little girls. They were out on the water and just a sequence of events really led to Ryan and his eldest daughter falling in the water and unfortunately, a bit of weather blew up and it blew the boat away from where they’d fallen in the water and the boat couldn’t be started.

“It was a heroic effort really from Ryan to stay afloat as long as he did to save his daughter. He eventually ran out of energy. Some jet skiers came along a little bit later and I don’t know how - it’s just a miracle - that the little girl was still afloat. Ryan went under and subsequently passed away. Really tragic events and we send our condolences out to Sheena, who is Billy’s sister, and the wife of Ryan. Those four little girls that have lost their dad.”

Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.
Cameron Smith and Billy Slater after a State of Origin game in 2022. (Mark Kolbe via Getty Images)

NRL fans rally around Billy Slater amid devastating time

Tributes are pouring in for Mr Craig on social media. Slater has declined to comment at this stage amid the devastating time.

“Man had some good times and laughs out at the bay,” Dean Tass, a friend of Mr Craig, wrote on social media. “Those chats that started off serious but ended up in tears of laughter because we went off topic. My heart is sore for you and your whole family mate.”

Nicholas Bozier said he will miss Ryan’s “words of wisdom”. Mr Bozier wrote: “Absolutely devastating news. Heart goes out to your wife and daughters mate I know you’ll be watching over them."

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Photos posted by Sheena on social media show her and Ryan enjoying time with their kids, looking happy and content. One photo from 2018 shows Sheena and Ryan with Slater and wife Nicole, alongside the Slaters' two kids at a Melbourne Storm game.

NRL fans have been rallying around Slater and his family as well, sending messages of condolence on social media. "Very sad news for the friends and family," one person wrote. Another commented: "So sorry for your loss, thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this difficult time."

Slater played 323 NRL games for the Storm, as well as 31 State of Origin matches for Queensland and 30 Tests for Australia. He is now the Maroons' State of Origin coach and a pundit with Channel 9.

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