For the rest of the game the debut skipper was the inspiration, driving his troops to victory to avoid a series whitewash, and in the process picking up the man of the match, and man of the series awards.
It would be fair to say Billy went out with a big bang.
But it would also be fair to say halfback Daley Cherry-Evans, back in maroon for the first time in three years, pushed Slater all the way for the man of the match honour.
Cherry-Evans’ passing and kicking was sharp and accurate, and he covered an enormous amount of positive ground in general play – it was a sensational comeback.
He set up Valentine Holmes’ second try in the 52nd minute, and scored one himself under the black dot in the 58th to seal the win.
So, New South Wales won the series, but Queensland won 18-12 last night in front of 51,214 with 178 countries watching one of the very best of Origins called by veteran Ray Warren for the 90th time.
Holmes kick-started the scoring in the 11th minute with a 90-metre intercept to convert and land a penalty to lead 8-0.
For the next 26 minutes it was all Queensland hammering the NSW line, only incredibly courageous defence held them out.
Then it was Tom Trbojevic’s turn for a 95-metre intercept for NSW, and fullback James Tedesco’s for another try – both converted by Nathan Cleary with first-choice kicker Maloney in the bin.
The Blues led 12-8 at the break, and must have thought all their Christmases had come at once. How on earth could they lead with blow-all ball?
But the massive NSW defensive effort of 239 tackles to 137 in the first half took its toll in the second.
Three brain-dead decisions were costly.
David Klemmer deliberately tripped Ben Hunt without the ball and was lucky not to be binned.
Tariq Sims crash tackled the Ben Hunt, his marker, without the ball. Angus Crichton failed to offload with speedster James Roberts unmarked outside him, bombing a certain try.
It matters not, NSW was the best team in the series but Queensland the best last night, setting up the 2019 series with the big four of the decade-plus Queensland domination – Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, and Billy Slater – all moved on.
But standby for the Ponga-Cherry-Evans-Munster-Holmes era that NSW will have to overcome – Queensland just keep producing them.
Maybe Brad Fittler has found the key to making NSW a genuine contender, but it’s far too early to rate them the new dynasty.
One thing is certain, rugby league’s Holy Grail is in the very best of hands.
David Lord was deeply involved in two of the biggest sporting stories - World Series Cricket in 1977 and professional rugby in 1983. After managing Jeff Thomson and Viv Richards during WSC, in 1983 David signed 208 of the best rugby players from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France to play an international pro circuit. The concept didn't get off the ground, but it did force the IRB to get cracking and bring in the World Rugby Cup, now one of the world's great sporting spectacles
It was the one State of Origin award Billy Slater couldn’t win. Sydney Roosters fullback James Tedesco was crowned NSW’s best player from their 2018 series victory on Monday night, earning his maiden Brad Fittler Medal. Controversially overlooked by Kangaroos selectors for the Wally Lewis player of the series, Tedesco was the Blues’ best in […]
It’s been a week since Game 3 of Origin and with pretty much any discussion on the game revolving around post-match drama I figured I’d take the opportunity to remind everyone that a game did in fact take place prior to the awards ceremony.
Since 2004, the Wally Lewis Medal has been one of the most prestigious awards in rugby league, given to the best player at the end of the State of Origin series. Handing that accolade to a player who only played two of the three games has devalued it forever.