I’ll never forget it: Slater
It was a sight that will forever warm purple hearts.
In the 30th minute Billy Slater rose off the bench, picked up that interchange card and step foot onto the AAMI Park field for the first time in 374 days.
The purple faithful then rose as one to salute the return of their hero who had endured 24 months of pain, doubt and endless hard work.
But it was all worth it for the chance to pull on the purple jersey once again.
Slater had played in 278 NRL games before Thursday night but this one was different and he knew it.
“Once I got that card in my hand, the emotion hit me,” Slater said.
“That is a moment in my career that I will remember for a long time when I stood up to come on. The crowd were amazing and the support has been great.
“It was probably the longest day of my football career waiting around for the game. I was very nervous, it was just the unknown obviously because of what’s happened the last few years.
“I am just really happy to get through the game… that was my main goal to get through the game, have a bit of a hit-out and now just looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Amidst the excitement of seeing Slater back out on the field, there was a feeling of tension around AAMI Park every time he was tackled.
That is understandable given the long road to recovery he has had to walk these past few years.
Few understand what Slater has been through more than his skipper Cameron Smith.
“He is one of my good mates first and foremost, he is like family,” Smith said.
“To watch what he has gone through in the last 24 months has been hard for everyone. I’ve got no idea how hard it’s been for him and his family.
“I just wanted to see him back on the paddock and getting another opportunity to play for the Melbourne Storm.
“He’s put his whole life into this club… he’s given a lot and it is just great to see him back playing again.”