Passion leads Slater to top Maroons job

Ex-Melbourne and Maroons star Billy Slater (c) has officially been named coach of the Qld team.
Ex-Melbourne and Maroons star Billy Slater (c) has officially been named coach of the Qld team.

He couldn't be prouder to be Queensland's new State of Origin coach but Billy Slater doesn't view his appointment as the first step in a long coaching career.

Slater has agreed to a two-year deal with the Queensland Rugby League to take over the Maroons, in what will be the 38-year-old's first official head coaching job since his playing retirement in 2018.

Far from being part of some long-held plan to move into the coach's box, Slater says his passion for his state and the chance to inspire the next generation of Queensland stars drew him to the role.

It is that player-first attitude which he wants to be the cornerstone of his time at the helm of the Maroons.

"To be honest I never thought of coaching throughout my playing days, I didn't have aspirations to be an NRL coach and, to be honest, I still don't have aspirations to be an NRL coach," Slater said.

"But you do what's important to you.

"Coaching - this position looks like a big scary position but you've got to put it in context.

"I'm not teaching a group of doctors to do brain surgery. I'm teaching footballers to play football and trying to coach them.

"We're working with some of the best footballers in the country so it's what I know best and I'm very comfortable with that.

"I've just got to make sure that I keep it in its context and not let the overwhelming interest around the position takeover."

Slater's player-first vision is hugely similar to that put in place by Mal Meninga during Queensland's dominant run of nine series wins in 10 from 2006 to 2015.

Slater, who made 31 appearances for the Maroons, was a key part of that dynasty - twice winning Wally Lewis medals as player of the series during a glittering career.

Speculation is rife the ex-Melbourne fullback will turn to his former Storm and Queensland teammate Cameron Smith as an assistant coach.

Ex-Maroons superstar Johnathan Thurston and veteran coach Wayne Bennett are others reportedly in the frame to be part of Slater's backroom team.

Slater confirmed he had held "private discussions" with Smith but no official offers had been made at this stage.

"I thought if I'm going to lead this team it's important for me to commit first, and that's what we're doing today," Slater said.

"Over the next few months we'll put together a team around this footy side and we'll have in mind what's going to best equip the footy team to prepare and be at their best each game.

"There are a number of candidates to be in and around this squad, whether they're mentors, support staff, assistant coaches. We've got plenty to choose from."

Slater's first task will be regaining the Origin shield from NSW after the Blues claimed a 2-1 series win in 2021 including a fearful 50-6 thrashing in Townsville in game one, despite all three games being played in Queensland.

"My job is selecting the best players and playing our best," Slater said.

"What's happened in the past has happened in the past, so I'll leave that there and just focus on where we can build for the future.

"We'll just build on what we've got and hopefully we can play the best footy at the best time."

Australian Associated Press