Comeback ambition still burns for coach Slater
It is a job he feels comfortable in but Maroons great Billy Slater hopes deep down that his position as an assistant coach with Queensland this year is only a temporary one.
Perhaps because his face looks as fresh as it did when he made his NRL debut back in 2003 the sight of Slater issuing orders to a Queensland backline boasting Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd was something of a strange one on Thursday morning (May 26) but it shapes as a crucial part of the team's preparation for Game 1 of the 2016 Holden State of Origin Series on Wednesday night (June 1).
Dane Gagai, Justin O'Neill and Corey Oates have the grand total of one Origin game between them and although highly credentialed with 23 previous matches for Queensland on the wing it is Boyd's first time playing fullback for the Maroons.
As a result Queensland coach Kevin Walters called in one of the XXXX Maroons' greatest servants to assist with a back five that has four positional changes to the team that won Game 3 52-6 last year.
Ruled out for the second straight season with a shoulder reconstruction after just one match for the Storm, Slater conceded that a role on the coaching staff was something of a "consolation prize" to being fit enough to play and was unable to guarantee that he would one day add to his 27 Origins in the future.
"I really do hope so," Slater said of winning back a Queensland jersey in 2017.
"I can't guarantee anything at the moment. I probably won't be able to guarantee anything until next year but if all goes well and the risks aren't high I certainly want to play football again.
"It's really tough sitting back and watching footy in general when I feel like I can still play.
"It is tough but I'm very grateful for the opportunity to come into camp and help out here and there."
Although it may seem strange to outsiders, players such as Inglis are well accustomed to taking orders from Slater on the football field.
Hailed as one of the best communicators among the modern fullbacks, Slater has an innate understanding of backline positional play – particularly defensively – and Inglis has no doubt that he will have a positive influence on the inexperienced outside backs.
"I've been in positions where Bill has run some sessions a long time ago in Melbourne so it's nothing really new to me," said Inglis, who has shifted back to the centres for his 28th game for Queensland.
Slater said that his primary role would be to ensure that each member of the Maroons' three-quarter line understood their role and the importance of getting their positional play perfect in such a high-pressure arena.
"They've probably been watching State of Origin games for their whole life and waiting for this opportunity," Slater said.
"They're excited about the opportunity and the challenge ahead but it's just about working on a few little things with their positional play.
"Dane plays fullback for his club and this is Corey's first Origin so just making sure that we're working on those little things and we're preparing well.
"We just ran through a bit of the back-three stuff this morning and we're just trying to tinker with our positional play and make sure that we're getting the best out of our performance.
"I do this job anyway whether I'm playing or not and we've got an experienced fullback in Darius who is helping out heaps as well.
"It's not foreign to me what I'm doing here."