Slater faces tough night
There'll be mixed emotions for Billy Slater when he watches the unveiling of the Slater Stand at AAMI Park on Thursday night before the Storm's season opener against the Broncos.
The Northern Stand is being renamed in his honour, after 16 seasons and 319 games of service for the club.
After four grand final wins, two Clive Churchill Medals and the club's try-scoring record (second on the all-time list).
Of course, the overwhelming feeling will be one of pride.
He'll be thinking about how his family name has been immortalised in Melbourne - almost 3,000 kms south of Innisfail where he started playing the game - because of the indelible impact he made on the club and what he also achieved with the Maroons and Kangaroos.
But another part of him - while he's standing on the turf in suit and tie accepting the rare accolade - will be wishing he was in the sheds lacing up the boots instead.
Slater's preparing to watch his first NRL game as a retired champion, and he revealed to reporters on Monday that he might struggle to be a spectator because he's got a "few more games left" in him.
"There's no doubt that I'll get itchy feet at some stage during this year - probably about 7.30 on Thursday night," he grinned.
"But that's the decision I've made and I'm extremely comfortable with where my career sits and what I've been able to do.
"I understand you can't play forever, and I probably did have a few more games left in me but very comfortable with what I've done and where I'm heading."
The Victorian Government has also announced that a statue of Slater and skipper Cameron Smith would be permanently erected outside AAMI Park.
"Billy's impact on the Storm has been enormous on and off the field," Storm CEO Dave Donaghy said.
"His on-field records speak volumes, but he has also helped rugby league become part of the morning chat in coffee shops, schools, board rooms and shop floors across the state.
"Storm members and fans love him, and the Melbourne public have embraced him so much that the boy from Innisfail in Queensland now calls Victoria home.
"There was very little discussion needed when we first flagged the idea with the stadium."
Slater said to be recognised in such a way in his adopted home was a "huge honour".
"I never thought that I would have a stand or a statue down here in Melbourne," he said.
"For them to honour my career and my family's name, a grandstand named after it, it's a huge honour and something that we're very proud of.
"I've got a sign in Innisfail as well, and I've got an oval up there that's been named after me. The two places that I've held very close to my heart, the two places that I've lived my whole life.
"I've been here for the best part of half my life... I've set up home here with my young family and this place at the Melbourne Storm has given me so many great memories and so many great opportunities."
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