Toughest guys around.
That’s what I hear when we talk about NRL. Or even, men’s sports more broadly.
They go hard. They hurt one another. They hurt themselves.
Their greatest joy is winning. With the lads. Because those boys are the best bunch they’ve ever played with.
We don’t often hear what happens off the field. And if we do, it’s not always pretty (just take a look at the allegations from Abby Gilmore, the ex-wife of AFL star, Jake Stringer, that emerged over the weekend).
This the narrative we hear about NRL.
So, when I woke up this morning to see emotional pictures of Billy Slater filling up the morning news, something felt different. It felt good.
Sure, he was completely overwhelmed with the glory of his team’s win. It was, dare I use the cliche, a “fairy tale” ending.
But, that has been somewhat sidelined to the coverage of Slater’s dedication to his wife, while accepting the Clive Churchill Medal for best on field.
In a special thank you to his wife, Nicole, Slater had to pause for a number of moments, for all that she had done to support his career.
“I’d just like to finish off by thanking one more person…and that’s my wife,” the 34-year-old told the roaring crowd.
“It’s been a rocky road the last couple of years, but I certainly couldn’t be standing here, without your support. So, thank you for everything you’ve done for me over my career, but especially the past couple of years.
“Love you, darl.”
The tears didn’t end there, will Slater welling up during other post-game interviews.
I’ve seen footballers get misty-eyed before. They’re just so overwhelmed by the win. It’s everything they have worked so darn hard for.
Listen: Should sporting matches have a trigger warning for gruesome injury replays? The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss. Post continues after audio.
In a culture that is often criticised for its toxic masculinity, which no doubt exists, Slater’s dedication to his wife is a rarity. But more than that, it’s important.
It’s important that he made the acknowledgement (wives and partners often go unnoticed). It’s important that he didn’t wipe away the tears, or make a joke that he should “harden up”. And, it’s important that it came from him.
Billy Slater's daughter was given some pom poms during her dad's emotional speech. Image via Facebook.
A "star" of the field. A Grand Final winner, a State of Origin Star, an Australian sportsman.
That's the leadership we need. For all the boys and girls sitting at home, who idolise this man. Even for adults, who grew up thinking that NRL is a tough man's sport, this speech means something.
Playing NRL and showing your feelings are not mutually exclusive. It has not emasculated Slater. In fact, by all accounts, it's only made him more relatable.
Comments have flooded his speech with people from all over the country (even people from NSW), congratulating Slater.
To add onto that, his sole acknowledgement of his wife is something to be honoured. When many "WAGS" are painted negatively, or removed from the narrative altogether, Billy shared the untold truth of any woman helping her partner's career.
There's so much you don't see. We love "the boys". "The team". His best mates, like Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.
But, it was his wife, who didn't stop for a moment to help him become the player he his today.
There were so many important moments from last night, particularly for NRL fans.
But, Billy Slater gave a masterclass in being a good man.
The award-winning podcast Mamamia Out Loud is doing their first live show. There will be laughs, disagreements and you can meet the hosts afterwards! We’re also donating $5 of every ticket price to Share The Dignity so grab your friends and come along to share the love and laughs, get your tickets here.