Billy Slater has given an insight into last year’s Queensland State of Origin camp when star duo Cameron Munster and Murray Taulagi were ruled out of the decider with COVID-19.
Slater’s hopes of a series win in his coaching debut looked to have been dealt a massive blow when Munster and Taulagi contracted the virus, before the undermanned Maroons claimed a 22-12 win at Suncorp Stadium.
The Maroons coach was one of the first to find out that Munster had tested positive, and revealed how testers thought the Storm star had played a prank on them.
READ MORE: Controversial truth behind bitter ‘grub’ claim
READ MORE: Stunning Jake Paul punch that almost stole fight
READ MORE: Untouchable Aussies win T20 World Cup
“We had a marquee, it was our own little team marquee and I went in there and there was only a couple of us in there, and Cameron Munster was one of the guys,” he recalled on Wide World of Sports’ Billy Slater Podcast.
“Munster had just tested and they were waiting for his results and we were just having some lunch.
“The NRL protocol guy that was testing all the boys thought that Cameron Munster was playing a trick on him, thought he’d just drawn another line on the COVID test.
“He showed him and Munster’s just froze and I’ve just gone, ‘Wow, is this really happening?’.
“He did another test straight away that came back positive as well and from there we basically locked everyone in their rooms.”
Munster would be replaced by Cowboys youngster Tom Dearden, and Slater said there was “no hesitation” in picking the 21-year-old to make his Origin debut.
“I still remember going up and knocking on Tom Dearden’s door and he opened the door,” Slater said.
“I said, ‘Cameron’s not playing and you’re going to play your first Origin for Queensland’, and like most Queensland kids, you could just see the reality of a dream come true for Tom.
“I still remember the look in his eye, he looked straight back at me and said, ‘I won’t let you down’, and it gives me goosebumps now telling the story.
“A young guy that not that long ago was on the outer at a club and went to a new club and stuck it up, you could really see that fighting spirit in Tommy.
“It was a great experience for me as a coach to deliver that news to him and for him to sit there and give me that much confidence that I had not one worry in the world, and his teammates didn’t have a concern either.
“We knew what we were losing in Cameron Munster, but we certainly weren’t concerned with what we were getting in Tom Dearden and he certainly delivered.”
Munster’s positive test was soon followed by one from Taulagi, and Slater said there was immediate concern over ”how far this was going to go”.
Taulagi was replaced in the line-up by veteran winger Corey Oates, who Slater revealed a hilarious story about.
“We didn’t really have a guy ready to come in (to replace Taulagi),” the Maroons coach recalled.
“Hamiso (Tabuai-Fidow) actually had a head injury so he didn’t come into camp three, so we actually had to call an older player in Corey Oates.
“Corey was about two or three beers in having a chat with his neighbour over the fence.
Hunt charge-down intercept wins Origin for Queensland
“We all knew with Corey Oates, he’d been there, he’d done it before and it was business as usual the next day once we got back on the training field.”
Slater and his team then went down in Queensland Origin folklore as tries to Valentine Holmes, Kurt Capewell, Kalyn Ponga and Ben Hunt sealed a famous series win.
Click here to listen to the full episode of The Billy Slater Podcast
“That adversity that we had to go through, that really resonated with the people of Queensland,” the Queensland coach said.
This year’s State of Origin series will get underway on May 31 at the Adelaide Oval, before wrapping up at Sydney’s Stadium Australia on July 12.
For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!