Queensland coach Kevin Walters was emotional as he presented son Billy with his jersey at WIN Stadium just minutes before the 25-year-old five-eighth ran out for his NRL debut with Melbourne Storm on Thursday night.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy delayed the traditional jersey presentation for debutants to enable Walters to fly to Wollongong from Queensland where he has been preparing the Maroons for next Wednesday night’s State of Origin decider.
Walters hugged Billy after giving him his jersey and the rookie playmaker then embraced each member of the Storm team and coaching staff before Melbourne’s 16-14 win.
“Kevvie had been at our club too and I didn’t think it was a real bad idea to have the Origin coach in our dressing room just before the game either,” Bellamy said.
“We don’t usually have jumper presentations before the game, we usually do it the day before or the night before, or some days before we get on the bus to come to the game, but with Kevvie obviously being in Origin camp he couldn’t get down any earlier than what he did.
“That was just before the game started so we just thought it would be a real honour for Billy and a real honour for our team as well.”
Match Highlights: Dragons v Storm
Bellamy said it was a significant moment for Walters after raising Billy and his brothers, Jack and Jett, following the death of their mother, Kim, from breast cancer in 1998.
“I know Kevvie was really proud to do that,” Bellamy said. “He has had some tough times in his life, Billy … and Kevvie, and we all know where I am coming from there.
“It was quite emotional and Kevvie got quite emotional and Billy got quite emotional. It was a nice touch and it was just nice to see sometimes how important a game of footy is. It was certainly important to Billy tonight and it was certainly important to Kevvie, and his family.”
Former Brisbane, Queensland and Australian teammate Gorden Tallis broke down on Fox League while watching the pre-match jersey presentation in the WIN Stadium sheds as he described what Walters had gone through after Kim's death.
"I was pretty young when it all happened but he was very strong, he had three young boys and he had my auntie who stepped in and helped, she was great for us," Billy told reporters after the game.
"He was very resilient and then he met Narelle, who is now his wife. I was a punish growing up, I was very stubborn and probably still am. I pushed her to her limits and she stuck around and stayed strong. I definitely credit her a lot as well."
With Kevin's brothers Steve and Kerrod also playing for Queensland and Australia, the famous Walters name could have been a burden but Billy has persevered and he finally got his chance with the Storm in Wollongong.
“Billy has been with us for two years and before that he has been in the Queensland Cup for a little while,” Bellamy said. “He is  years old. That is not old, but a lot of guys make their debuts before that.”
The 16-14 win ensures Melbourne will remain six points clear at the top of the NRL ladder after this weekend's round 16 matches.
Many had expected the Storm to fall down the pecking order after losing Cooper Cronk at the end of the 2017 season and Billy Slater last year.
“I think we have always been a club in that we don’t concern ourselves with what we haven’t got. We always concern ourselves with what we have got,” Bellamy said. “When someone leaves someone else gets a chance."