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February, 2019

Serena lapping up grand slam pressure

Serena Williams is embracing the suffocating pressure that seems the only threat to the ageless champion’s hopes of completing a fabled calendar-year grand slam sweep.

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“She doesn’t have a challenger,” former world No.1 Lindsay Davenport gushed after Williams subdued Spanish prodigy Garbine Muguruza 6-4 6-4 in Saturday’s Wimbledon final.

No time to waste, though, celebrating her sixth title at the All England Club – or a 21st career major and second “Serena Slam” – Williams immediately turned her focus to even bigger opportunities at next month’s US Open.

Williams houses all four grand slam singles trophies for the second time in her remarkable career, but the newly-crowned Wimbledon and reigning Australian, French and US champion is eyeing yet greater spoils.

The American will head to New York striving to become only the fourth woman in more than a century of grand slam tennis to win all four majors in the same year.

The spotlight will be intense, but Williams insists the pressure won’t undermine her chances of joining Maureen Connolly (1953), Margaret Smith Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988) in one of world sport’s most exclusive clubs.

“I feel like if I can do the Serena Slam, I will be okay heading into the grand slam,” she said.

“Like I always say, there’s 127 other people that don’t want to see me win. Nothing personal, they just want to win.

“I had a really tough draw (at Wimbledon). This gives me confidence that if I had this draw, I can do it again.

“I really don’t feel like I have anything to lose. I’ve kind of solidified my place at No.1.

“My goal is always to end the year at No.1. I just want to make sure when I play Australia, I don’t have pressure going into that.”

Instead, if Williams does reign at Flushing Meadows for a seventh time, she will head to Melbourne in January with the chance to eclipse Graf’s benchmark 22 grand slam titles and enhance her status as arguably the greatest women’s player of all time.

“You’ve got to enjoy this. You’re looking at arguably the greatest female athlete in maybe the last 50 years. Not just in tennis. All sports,” John McEnroe marvelled after Williams also became the oldest grand slam singles champion in the open era with her straight-sets defeat of Muguruza.

At 33 years and 289 days old, Williams is 25 days younger than when Martina Navratilova landed the last of her record nine titles at the All England Club in 1990.

But she craves more and credits a newfound passion for “contemporary dancing” as the reason for still feeling young enough to compete with – and beat – rivals across three generations.

“I’ve never loved working out,” Williams said after 21-year-old Muguruza became her 13th different grand slam final scalp since beating Martina Hingis at the 1999 US Open at just 17.

“When I first started, I would always ride the bike, work on my legs.

“Then I started doing more running. Then I started doing more sprint work.

“At one point I was boxing. Every few years I’m always doing something physically-wise.

“I feel almost better now. I mean, I do have some aches and pains, but overall physically I feel like I’m better. I feel like I’m more fit.

“I feel like I can do more than I did 10, 12, whatever years ago.

“Yeah, I just think I just keep reinventing myself in terms of working out, in terms of my game.

“It’s been working.”

SNAPSHOT OF NEWLY-CROWNED WIMBLEDON CHAMPION SERENA WILLIAMS

Age: 33

Born: Saginaw, Michigan, USA

Lives: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, USA

Height: 175cm

Weight: 70kg

Ranking: 1

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $A97.57 million

Career titles: 68

Career win-loss record: 716-121

Grand slam titles: 21 (Australian Open 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009-10, 2015; French Open 2002, 2013, 2015; Wimbledon 2002-03, 2009-10, 2012, 2014; US Open 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012-2014)

Grand slam win-loss record: 190-28

Wimbledon win-loss record: 79-10

Best Wimbledon performances: champion 2002-03, 2009-10, 2012, 2015

ROAD TO TITLE

1st rd: bt Margarita Gaspariyan (RUS) 6-4 6-1

2nd rd: bt Timea Babos (HUN) 6-4 6-1

3rd rd: bt Heather Watson (GBR) 6-2 4-6 7-5

4th rd: bt 16-Venus Williams (USA) 6-4 6-3

QF: bt 23-Victoria Azarenka (BLR) 3-6 6-2 6-3

SF: bt 4-Maria Sharapova (RUS) 6-2 6-4

F: bt 21-Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 6-4 6-4

McGinley doesn’t rate Spieth’s Open chances

The 48-year-old Irishman believes St Andrews, venue of next week’s British Open, will favour the long drivers rather than someone like Spieth whose game is built around a silky putting stroke.

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“The odds are against Jordan next week,” McGinley told Reuters in an interview at the Scottish Open. “I wouldn’t be backing him.

“If the course plays to it’s prevailing wind, which is in off the left on the holes on the way out, it’s very advantageous to hit the ball a long way.

“Holes like the par-five fifth, going into that green with a five or six-iron compared to a three-wood is a massive advantage to the big hitters, particularly when the pin is at the front,” said McGinley.

“The par-four ninth is also driveable to the big-hitters, 10 is driveable, 12 is driveable, 14 gets wider the further you hit it, and 18 is driveable too. Jordan not being one of the big hitters means it’s going to put even more focus on his putting.”

McGinley, who led Europe to Ryder Cup victory in Scotland in September, said the Old Course had changed a lot down the years.

“I think it’s going to be a leaderboard dominated by big hitters, I feel that very strongly,” he said.

NEW TEEBOXES

“Since Nick Faldo won there in 1990 they’ve put in five, six or seven new teeboxes that have really changed the dynamic of the course.”

McGinley refuses to discount the claims of Spieth completely but he reckons the 21-year-old’s fellow American Dustin Johnson and South African Louis Oosthuizen are more likely challengers for the coveted Claret Jug.

“Louis won the Open at St Andrews in 2010, he hits the ball a long way,” said the Dubliner.

“He is the kind of player who is well capable of winning and the kind of player I feel will come out on top.

“Jordan is probably the best putter in the world but I’m looking at the big hitters next week. Maybe it’s going to be Dustin’s time, the course is perfectly suited to his game.”

McGinley said it was a real shame Rory McIlroy’s ankle injury had deprived the golfing world of an Open shootout between him and fellow young gun Spieth.

“It’s disappointing for the game because sport, no matter whether its boxing, tennis or football, thrives on rivalries,” added the four-times European Tour winner.

“With Rory having won two majors last year and Jordan winning the first two this season, it set it up really nicely for a rivalry between the number one and number two in the world at the home of golf at St Andrews.

NOT TENNIS

“Having said that golf isn’t like a sport like tennis in so far as generally three of the four top players in the world are going to be in the semi-finals of Wimbledon,” said McGinley.

“That’s not the case in our sport because the guys in 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th, 80th, 90th position in the rankings can compete and all have the potential to win next week. That’s something that’s unique about golf.”

McIlroy sustained his injury playing football with his friends last weekend and McGinley felt it would be harsh to criticise the 26-year-old Northern Irishman for that.

“In hindsight Rory would wish he hadn’t played that game of football but it could have happened to him walking down the street,” he said.

“It wasn’t a dirty tackle, the game wasn’t played at a high tempo, he just happened to be running and went over on his ankle.

“One of the things that makes Rory special is he’s not a Nick Faldo-kind of personality, obsessive with the game, an incredibly hard practiser, focused 24/7, that’s not his dynamic, that’s not what makes him tick as a golfer,” said McGinley.

“He’s much more creative, much more inspirational and that’s what makes him so exciting as a player. What he does off the course gives him that energy, that freshness, to play that way.”

McGinley was speaking after taking over from Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter as “captain” of the online Ballantine’s Golf Club.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

War on drug cheats can be won, says WADA chief

 

For some, ridding the world of performance-enhancing drugs is a losing battle, but for Reedie, a British Olympic official who took over as WADA chief 18 months ago, there would be no reason to get up in the morning and go to work if he believed the war cannot be won.

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“I’m a glass half full man, I want to believe it is possible to have clean sport,” Reedie told Reuters during a stop at the Pan American Games in Toronto. “I am prepared to happily concede that in a world of many billion people there is never going to be total eradication.

“But I think there is a very reasonable chance that at an organised sport level we can get to a situation where those people who cheat are an ever diminishing part of the sport family.

“I wouldn’t be particularly comfortable waking up on Monday morning thinking we have no chance. Why bother?”

While the corruption scandal rocking world soccer and cleaning up FIFA have become the new sporting cause du jour, the fight to remove drugs goes on out of the spotlight.

At the 2011 Pan Ams in Guadalajara, Mexico, three athletes failed doping tests just hours after the opening ceremony, offering a quick reminder that anti-doping crusaders must remain vigilant.

Four years later in Toronto that memory is not forgotten. Pan Am officials have put in place a comprehensive drug-testing program that reflects the largest multi-sport event ever staged in Canada with 7,000 athletes from 41 countries.

The TO2015 Anti-Doping Program is providing doping control services before and during the Games on behalf of the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO). It will conduct 1,500 urine tests and over 400 blood tests.

Testing procedures will follow the revised WADA Code which Reedie says is a polished document that is about as good as it is going get.

WADA’s first president, outspoken Canadian Dick Pound, shot from the hip, putting the anti-doping issue on the front pages. He was followed by Australian politician John Fahey, who employed a more diplomatic approach, bringing greater government and law enforcement involvement to the fight.

Reedie sees his mandate as one that is clearly defined, getting WADA’s various constituencies to make better use of the tools they have been provided.

“The rules of the game have been clearly established,” said Reedie. “This is the third revision of the Code. We should have the rules in about an ideal state.

“We’ve now got everybody compliant in having a set of rules. What I want to see now is everyone under this set of rules doing it better.

“I want everybody to say; ok the rules are now clear we need to do this better.

“I would like to see our compliance efforts being respected and everybody picking up the pace and doing it better.

“That’s where I think I am.”

 

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

Briton Brooks ignores injury to keep Scottish Open lead

The 28-year-old was hurt playing out from the rough as he opened with a double-bogey six but he regrouped well to shoot a one-under-par 69 for a 12-under tally of 198.

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Brooks is one ahead of Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin (64) and leads by two from American Rickie Fowler (66), Dutchman Joost Luiten (66) and Briton Tommy Fleetwood (67).

Englishman Brooks, ranked 528th in the world, is chasing the biggest payday of his career, and a place in next week’s British Open at St Andrews if he can claim one of the three spots available to a top-10 finisher not already exempt.

“I know what lays ahead should I win tomorrow but I am going to go out there and continue what I have been doing this past three days,” he told reporters.

“I know it could all be life-changing but I will try not to think about it,” added Brooks who started the third round three strokes clear of the field.

Jacquelin carded the best score of the day as he looked to land the fifth European Tour win of his career.

Fowler is hoping to follow in the footsteps of U.S. Ryder Cup team mate Phil Mickelson who captured the 2013 Scottish Open title before winning the British Open a week later.

“Seeing what Phil did two years ago, and my decision to come over last year and also this year as well, it definitely makes sense to play here the week before the Open,” said Fowler.

“I’m just getting acclimatised, getting the game ready and getting a few things straightened out.”

Mickelson returned a 70 on Saturday and is well down the field on 207, three under.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

Canada gets Pan Am Games off to golden start

Talk of sluggish ticket sales disappeared under a brilliant Canadian summer sun as large enthusiastic crowds turned out at many venues to cheer on their home country.

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But attendance problems appear far from over as large swathes of empty seats could still be seen some events particularly at football and rugby.

Canadian synchronized swimmers Jacqueline Simoneau and Karine Thomas, Chilean triathlete Barbara Riveros and Mexican divers Rommel Pacheco and Paola Espinosa earned direct qualifying spots into next year’s Rio Olympics as a bonus for winning gold in their events.

Riding a wave of hometown support, Canada’s women kayakers won the first gold of the Games as Michelle Russell, Emilie Fournel, KC Fraser and Hannah Vaughan powered home ahead of Cuba in the K-4 500 metres.

“The crowd was cheering so loud I can’t even explain it. In words, I can’t even explain it,” said Fraser.

“When we got to the last 200 metres of our race you just hear the crowd screaming so loud and it just gives you that drive.”

Canada’s golden success continued in the synchronized swimming pool with Simoneau and Thomas winning the duet competition and then were back in the water a few hours later to help Canada to the team title.

Troy Nyhaug then won the men’s BMX while the hosts also picked up silver in judo and another silver and two bronze from the diving pool to bring their medal total to eight, one ahead of the United States, Mexico and Colombia, who all finished the day on seven medals.

Americans Felicia Stancil took top spot in the women’s BMX, Eva Fabiam in the women’s open water swim while the men won the artistic gymnastics team event.

Mexico continued its domination of the Pan Am diving competition with Pacheco, who competed at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, taking gold in the men’s three-meter springboard and Espinosa, a two-times Olympic medallist, winning the women’s 10 metre platform.

Colombia took two gold medals from the weightlifting while Brazil, Ecuador, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Chile also won golds on the first day.

Medals in 12 events will be decided while automatic qualifying spots for the Rio Olympics on offer in triathlon, shooting and equestrian.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto)

Yang retains three-shot lead at U.S. Women’s Open

The 24-year-old Yang shot a one-under 69 for a 54-hole total of eight-under-par 202, while world number three Lewis’s 69 left her at five under par for the championship.

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Yang, who has twice before played in the final pairing at a U.S. Open, will have another golden opportunity on Sunday paired again with Lewis.

“I don’t want to think too much ahead, but it would be a great thing to my golf career,” Yang said about the possibility of claiming her maiden major.

Chun In-gee, a 20-year-old South Korean, surged to third place with a two-under 68 for a four-under-par 206, one stroke better than Japanese Tour veteran Shiho Oyama, who shot 71 after sliding back with a double-bogey at the par-four fifth.

Four players were grouped at two under par, including last year’s winner Michelle Wie, who fired a 68.

Joining Wie on 208, six strokes off the pace, were world number one Park In-bee (70) and fellow Koreans Lee Mi-hyang (68) and Chella Choi, who set a U.S. Women’s Open nine-hole record by firing a 29 on the front side on her way to a six-under 64.

Five players had shot 30 for nine holes, the first being Pamela Wright at Indianwood in 1994.

TWO-SHOT SWINGS

Yang enjoyed a four-stroke lead after she birdied the par-five 13th hole to reach nine under par and was threatening to make it a romp.

But a two-shot swing at the par-four 14th tightened the leaderboard as the South Korean bogeyed after a strong chip past the cup, while Lewis birdied to close within two.

A three-putt bogey by Lewis at the 17th hole restored Yang’s three-stroke lead.

Earlier, Yang used a two-stroke swing to her advantage, turning a three-shot lead over Lewis into a five-shot bulge as she birdied the first while the American made bogey.

A bogey-birdie exchange in Lewis’s favour at the second hole again reversed the effect.

Yang and Lewis, who were both within range of winning their first U.S. Open crown last year, will wage another head-to-head clash paired in Sunday’s final round.

Their third-round duel had the feel of match play.

“I felt like I hit some great shots that put a lot of pressure on her, and then she just would respond and hit it right in there with me,” said two-times major winner Lewis.

“There were multiple times today that it was iffy who was away. I mean, we were hitting shots on top of each other. In a sense it’s frustrating, because you’re trying to get closer but you really can’t get any closer.

“I think it’s great golf. I think we both played really well today given the circumstances, and I expect more of it tomorrow.”

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

New Zealand kicked out of Olympic qualifying final

Wynne, who has represented New Zealand at a senior level and during the under-20 World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year, was born in South Africa.

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He played in the 2-0 win over Vanuatu in the semi-finals, which advanced New Zealand to the final against Fiji later on Sunday.

Vanuatu, however, lodged a protest with the Oceania Football Confederation Disciplinary Committee who found New Zealand had fielded an ineligible player, and awarded the game 3-0 to Vanuatu instead.

“In accordance with Article 7 of the Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes, a member of the New Zealand U-23 squad has been deemed ineligible to represent New Zealand,” the OFC said in a statement.

Article 7 of the FIFA statutes relate to a player acquiring a new nationality. Under the article either the player or a parent or grandparent needs to be born in the country they wish to represent.

If they are ineligible under the first three criteria, they can represent the country if they have lived there for five years continuously since the age of 18, making the 20-year-old Wynne too young to qualify under that clause.

Such a clause, however, would restrict many age-group players, particularly those wanting to play in the under-23 Olympic tournaments, from representing a country they were not born in or had any family ties to.

Article 6 of the statutes, which applies to players who have nationality to represent more than one country, has the same criteria as Article 7 though the time limit is restricted to two years and has no age requirement.

The OFC did not name Wynne as the player involved, though New Zealand Football later said he had been deemed to be ineligible and they would challenge the decision.

“We strongly refute the ruling regarding the ineligibility of the player in question and we will be challenging this decision,” NZF chief executive Andy Martin said in a statement.

The OFC’s Olympic qualifying tournament is part of the Pacific Games that are being held in Papua New Guinea.

Neither the OFC or NZF returned calls.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Hingis-Mirza win Wimbledon doubles

Martina Hingis is a Wimbledon champion once again, 17 years – exactly half her life – after the last time.

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Already a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame on the merits of her “first” career in the sport, Hingis teamed with Sania Mirza to win the women’s doubles final at the All England Club by beating Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 5-7, 7-6 (4), 7-5 on Saturday night.

The 34-year-old Hingis added to her collection of Wimbledon trophies that includes the singles title from 1997, plus the women’s doubles titles from 1996 and 1998. The latter was her last appearance in a final at Wimbledon.

“It feels like it was in another life,” Hingis said.

“Usually, you’re lucky to win it once or happy to be out here and play on the Wimbledon grounds,” Hingis said. “It’s above my expectations.”

She’ll get a chance to earn yet another trophy on Sunday, when she and Leander Paes face Timea Babos and Alexander Peya in the mixed doubles final.

And to think: A few years ago, Hingis was taking part in the Legends tournament for former players.

“I wouldn’t have thought (then) that I’ll be back, playing the finals here,” she said.

The No. 1-seeded Hingis and Mirza trailed 5-2 in the final set before taking the last five games against the second-seeded Makarova and Vesnina, who won last year’s US Open.

“It takes guts and courage being 5-2 down in the third set,” said Hingis, who held serve to win the match, then began leaping up and down on court. “Couldn’t have asked for more drama.”

Play was halted at 5-5 because it was getting too dark; after a break, action resumed with the Centre Court roof closed and artificial lights on.

“When we came out at 5-all, we had goosebumps. The energy on the court – we were getting a standing ovation – it was unbelievable,” said Mirza, the first woman from India to be ranked No. 1 in singles or doubles. “We both came out, and I said, ‘This is what we play for. This is what we work for'”.

Hingis, who reached No. 1 in the rankings and won five Grand Slam singles titles in the 1990s, initially quit tennis in 2002 because of foot and leg injuries, then rejoined the circuit full-time in 2006. She announced her retirement again in 2007, when she was given a two-year suspension for testing positive for cocaine at Wimbledon. At the time, she denied taking the drug but did not appeal the ruling.

The Swiss star returned to tennis in recent years as a coach and now is back playing, perhaps with an eye to competing at next year’s Rio Olympics.

Late Saturday evening, Hingis was asked whether during her time away from the game she ever thought this sort of success could again be possible.

“I always believed in it. Without that, you can’t come out here and play and compete at this level,” Hingis said. “I always felt like I had one of the best volleys in the world, one of the best backhands in the world, so you got to believe in something if you want to win.”

Muguruza believes her time will come

Garbine Muguruza departed the All England Club a grand slam believer despite being the latest in a long line of challengers to fall victim to the great Serena Williams.

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Muguruza threatened a boilover when she took the opening two games and had Williams on the back foot before the world No.1 seized control to secure her sixth Wimbledon crown with a 6-4 6-4 final triumph on Saturday.

But while Williams was basking in the glory of her 21st major title and second “Serena Slam”, Muguruza won over millions with her fearless approach to her maiden grand slam final.

Williams led the tributes for the 21-year-old who, until last week, had won just one match at the All England Club and last year lost in the opening round.

“Don’t be sad, you will be holding this trophy very, very soon,” the American told the vanquished youngster before lavishing further praise on Muguruza in her champion’s press conference.

“She’s such a great player. She’s beaten me before (at last year’s French Open).

“I think she really stepped up to the plate today. She was determined to do well and to win.

“She came out there to win. She wasn’t out there just to play a final. That says a lot about her and her future.

“She never gave up, literally ever.”

Muguruza was touched by Williams’ gracious words.

“It’s good when you hear something like this from a legend,” the Spaniard said.

“Hopefully I can do it. I was close. It’s good to hear that. I feel better now.”

After losing nine of 10 games mid match, Muguruza won three in a row to fight back to 5-4 down in the second set before Williams finally prevailed.

“I couldn’t stop crying. So many people are clapping,” Muguruza said of the love from the centre-court crowd.

“I don’t know, I make all these people feel this in a tennis court? I felt special.”

Last year’s breakthrough at the Hobart International remains Muguruza’s only title success, but the new world No.9 said her dream Wimbledon run had armed her with newfound belief.

“I don’t feel disappointment,” she said.

“But you never know how many chances you’re going to have to play a final in a grand slam.

“But if you have to choose who to win or who to lose, I would choose Serena.”

There’s no shame in that.

Williams’s list of grand slam final victims reads like a who’s who of modern-day women’s tennis.

Since stunning Martina Hingis as a 17-year-old at the US Open back in 1999, Williams has taken down sister Venus, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, Vera Zvonareva, Justine Henin, Agnieszka Radwanksa, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, Lucie Safarova and now Muguruza in grand slam finals.

Only four of those 13 have failed to reach world No.1.

“I’m going to leave here being really motivated. I think I’m the most motivated person right now,” Muguruza said.

“I have to believe that I can be there. Here I have the proof, in Wimbledon, that I was really close.”

Inglis set to stay at No.1 for Maroons

Billy Slater could be forced to play out the remainder of his State of Origin career where it started – on the wing – following Greg Inglis’ dominant performance in the Queensland No.

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1 jersey in the series decider.

That is the opinion of Origin greats Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns and Wally Lewis.

Inglis was in explosive form for the Maroons in their record 52-6 win at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday with Slater sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Slater, 33 next week, has played the majority of his 27 Origin fixtures at fullback. But his Origin career started on the wing in 2004, with Rhys Wesser in the custodian role for the Maroons.

Slater has excelled at fullback for Queensland, but Fittler, Johns and Lewis in their role as commentators on the Nine Network’s Sunday Footy Show concurred it would be hard for Maroons coach Mal Meninga to move Inglis out of the fullback position for Origin I next year.

“Having Greg Inglis at the back was worse for NSW,” Fittler said.

“I think when you have Billy Slater there, you have to put your best players in your team and when Billy Slater comes back, one of the big decisions may be to play him back on the wing where he started because you can’t move Greg Inglis. He runs the ball back with so much power.”

“Billy, the way he plays, he could play wing for another year or two.”

Johns agreed.

“I don’t think you can move Greg Inglis from fullback now,” he said.

With Lewis adding: “He is just so thrilling (back there).”

It was just the second time Inglis, 28, had played fullback in his Origin career, also spanning 27 games. He last played there in Queensland’s 21-20 win at Suncorp Stadium in game three that sealed the 2012 series. Slater was out injured that night too.

Slater won’t play again this year after having shoulder surgery after Origin II at the MCG.

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