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Five-year Sydney drought 'irrelevant' to new breed: Slater

The last time the Maroons tasted victory in Sydney, Billy Slater was playing in his 28th Origin game, Val Holmes was on debut and current assistant coach Johnathan Thurston was defying the pain of a busted shoulder to land the match-winning conversion in

Slater would go on to play three more Origins and retire as one of the Maroons’ all-time greats, likewise Thurston, whose rep career ended that night with 37 Origins to his name.

The great ‘JT’ had hoped to get an Origin swan song in Game Three and then be part of Australia’s World Cup campaign at the end of 2017, but shoulder surgery put paid to those plans.

Holmes, meanwhile, suits up for Queensland for the 11th time on Wednesday night, while Josh Papalii and Dane Gagai were also there five years ago and get their shot at breaking the Sydney hoodoo in Game One.

Five years without a win in Sydney may sound like a long drought but with more games being played at neutral venues, particularly during the COVID pandemic, the losing streak is only three games… and it hasn’t been keeping rookie coach Slater awake at night.

As much as he loves the history of Origin, Slater is adamant those losses in 2018, 2019 and 2020 will have no bearing on Wednesday night’s result or the psyche of his team.

“It’s irrelevant where we are playing and it’s irrelevant what has happened in the past. The actions on the field will determine the outcome,” Slater said on Tuesday.

“The only stat that matters is what happens tomorrow night. I’m confident that our group are going to play really well, they’re going to do their state, their families and themselves really proud.

“We have focused on what we can control and that has been our preparation. This game means so much to so many people.

“This team has been important to me since I was a four-year-old boy. I got the opportunity to be one of the players that wore the jersey and inspired other people and now I get the opportunity to help our group be those players to inspire our state.”

From his debut series in 2004 when his chip-and-chase try lit up Suncorp Stadium right through to his 31st and final game when he skippered his beloved Maroons to an 18-12 win on home soil, Slater has been a pivotal figure in some of Origin’s biggest moments.

In concert with Thurston, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Darren Lockyer and Greg Inglis, he helped Queensland win eight straight series between 2006-13 – a record that will simply never be matched.

And while magic moments were his trademark, the new Queensland coach said he has rammed home to his players the importance of the one percenters, the nitty gritty, the efforts that go unseen by fans but mean the world to team-mates.

“We all have this perception that Origin is about big moments and history tells that story and this team has had some really big moments in the 42 years of Origin but the small moments are really important and that’s what we have spoken about,” he said.

“The big moments will happen, they will come, but they’ll never happen if you don’t do the small moments.

“If you go out chasing the big moments you’ll forget about the small ones.

“We’ve had a great preparation and we’re all looking forward to the game now. There’s a fair bit of stress that goes with this job but once we got a couple of sessions under our belt I was relaxed.

“From Saturday on I’ve been really comfortable. The players have given me a lot of belief. My job is to give them belief but they’ve instilled a fair bit of belief in me and I just know they are going to do Queensland proud.

“We haven’t had to dive down too much into what it means to Queenslanders, these players understand it and they remember how they felt growing up and what this jersey meant to them.”