Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater was unable to keep his emotions in check after finding out he had won the Clive Churchill Medal, awarded to the best player in the NRL grand final.
The 34-year-old played a key role in Melbourne’s 34-6 win over the North Queensland Cowboys on Sunday evening, scoring a first-half try as the Storm won their first premiership since 2012.
For Slater, who missed much of the past two seasons with serious shoulder injuries, the triumph was extra special, leading to a tearful speech.
“I’d just like to finish off by thanking one more person,” he said, his voice breaking, after being presented with the medal.
“And that is my wife. It has been a rocky road the last couple of years, darl, but I couldn’t be standing here without your support.
“Thank you for everything that you have done for me over my career.
“But especially the last couple of years. I love you, darl.”
Watch the full speech
— NRL (@NRL) October 1, 2017
Earlier, amidst the scenes of jubilation, Slater conducted a television interview with the Nine Network as his children ran to greet him on-field.
Speaking to rugby league legend Brad Fittler, Slater gave an insight into the difficulties he’d faced during rehabilitation.
“It is a lot of hard work … a lot of hard work,” he said, fighting back tears.
Asked if he thought he’d ever play another grand final, Slater added: “I didn’t really know, mate. Sorry. I honestly didn’t know whether my body would let me back here.
“It was the toughest thing I had to sit through last year and the boys going so close [in the grand final] and being helpless. I wasn’t going to let that happen today.”
Slater said his wife Nicole, and his children, had been instrumental in his injury recovery.
“They have been through the journey with me,” he said.
“The last two years have been really tough on them, as it has been on me. It’s for them to enjoy as well.”
And despite speculation about retirement, Slater looks set to play on next year, having completed one of the game’s great comebacks.
“My body is feeling good, I know it is physical,” he added.
“I love playing this game. I will make a decision soon. I am feeling good but I will just enjoy this, mate.”
NRL or AFL, it’s family who drives the success
Slater’s emotional outpouring came just 24 hours after the AFL grand final-winning coach Damien Hardwick also gave his wife much credit for supporting him in Richmond’s run to the flag – albeit in a more jovial fashion.
— Brad Cole (@BJCole10) October 1, 2017
Throughout 2017, Hardwick had made light of his woes at home as wife Danielle – whom he called Mrs Hardwick throughout the season – became a potent presence driving the coach to greater heights.
After receiving the Jock McHale Medal, awarded to the premiership coach, Hardwick thanked the players as “the love of my life”, and then singled out “Mrs Hardwick, who’s somewhere up in the stands”.