It was a happy homecoming for Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater after a week of intense build-up, playing a pivotal role in a powerful and brutal 14-12 heart-stopping win over the Brisbane Broncos on Thursday night.
Many wondered whether it would be the comeback of the legendary Slater of old, or an older Slater in just his eighth match in the past two seasons, and his first since last year's season opener.
While the 33-year-old didn't have a direct impact on the score-line, his influence was vital in the Storm extend their undefeated start to the Telstra Premiership season.
Coming on in the 30th minute to thunderous applause, Slater provided an instant spark of energy that wore down Brisbane and ultimately led to the final knock-out blow for the winning converted try with three minutes to play.
After the match, Slater admitted a flurry of nerves and emotions before taking the field after two shoulder operations.
"When I say I was more nervous today than my debut, it's just the unknown," Slater said.
"In the last two years I've been out and the expectation leading into this game, there was a fair bit of hype and attention.
"I was just nervous not knowing. The last time I played, I finished the game and had to get (the shoulder) re-operated on.
"I don't think I've ever played and felt as happy to finish out the game. That was my main goal to get through the game and have a bit of a hit out.
"Once I got that card in my hand (to come on), the emotion hit me. That's a moment I'll remember in my career for a long time."
There were encouraging signs for Slater throughout the match as he constantly threatened to breach the Broncos line. He looked comfortable at the back running the ball 17 times for 139 metres and nearly set-up several tries.
While Slater's timing may have been off, he still kept the Broncos honest, making five tackle breaks and constantly threatened to breach their line.
"He was a bit rusty tonight and you would be after only playing a handful of games in two years. I think he had some moments of pretty classy touches as well," Storm captain Cameron Smith said.
"He'll get his touch back again, no doubt."
Slater added: "I don't think it was timing, it was more pass selection and when to hold onto the ball. Young Billy came back to play for a bit. That's what I've got to work on. (I'm) a little bit rusty.
"I didn't prepare for what I was going to do out there. I was preparing my body as best I could and put a little bit of structure in coming off the bench.
"I feel like I can knuckle down and focus on playing football in being the best player I can be."
It's been a long road back, and it's just the beginning for Slater who shapes as the final piece in the Storm avenging last year's grand final loss.
Smith also praised Slater's inspirational return and what it means to the club.
“Taking away from being a teammate, he's one of my good mates, first and foremost. To watch him go through what he's gone through the last 24 months has been hard for everyone.
“I've got no idea how hard it's been for him and his family.
“I just wanted to see him back on the paddock, another opportunity to play for the Storm. That’s what he’s put his whole life into for this club."
Slater's return comes at an opportune time for the Storm, with stand-in fullback Cameron Munster and winger Suliasi Vunivalu both out with injury for 4-6 weeks and 3-4 weeks respectively.