Spearheading his side to Sunday’s grand final with two crucial first-half tries, it’s hard to believe Broncos hooker Billy Walters once thought his NRL career was over.
Arriving in Brisbane in 2022 as a five-eighth with just 12 first-grade games to his name, Walters was never touted as the man to fill the gaping hole that was the Broncos No.9 position.
But after playing a starring role in the 42-12 win over the Warriors, the 29-year-old has proven himself as the last missing piece to Brisbane's spine puzzle.
“I thought kind of my opportunity had passed after I had been at the Tigers and didn't get much of a run and then to be getting a run at the Broncos. Then now to be playing in a grand final…if you told me that two years ago, I probably wouldn't have believed you,” Walters said.
“It's one of those nights you dream about as a little Brisbane, kid playing at a packed-out house at Suncorp in a prelim and scoring two tries and winning as well.
“I’m very happy and we've got to enjoy nights like tonight.”
Walters, a five-eighth by trade, said it wasn't all smooth sailing when he first returned to Red Hill and his switch to hooker came with some hard truths from his father and coach, Kevin.
“I did a lot of training in the halves but three-quarters of the way through last year Kevvie said, ’No more halves. If I want to play halves you’ll be playing at Wynnum',” Walters said during the week.
“He said I needed to focus on dummy half and that’s the role he saw me in at this team so I got to spend the whole pre-season training at dummy half and trying to find and nail my role in the team.”
Walters was just six-years-old when he watched his father captain the Broncos to the 2000 premiership, his fifth title with the club.
With the Broncos having taken home as many wooden spoons as premierships in the 23 years since, Billy believes his side can smash the 17-year title drought when they face defending premier Panthers on Sunday.
“I think Kevvie has brought back a lot of pride,” he said. “Like, you’ve got to remind yourself how lucky we are to be playing for the Brisbane Broncos.
“It's definitely been like that this year and it's shown that the more wins we get, the more the town gets behind us and the happier we are as a team and the better footy we play.
“We've got a lot of young players and I hope they realise the opportunity we've got this week and it doesn't come often to play in a grand final, let alone win one.
“So we’ve just got to go in head-first and work really hard this week and be ready for Sunday.”
After father-and-son duo Jake and Brad Arthur faced the Nathan and Ivan Cleary combination in last year’s decider, the Walters' will take centre stage at Accor Stadium alongside the Clearys this year.
“They're a tough combination but we'll try our best to beat them,” Walters said.
“It’s going to be hard, they're a tough team to beat and they keep knocking teams down when they get there in the grand final.
“Kevvie's my coach when we’re at footy and my dad when we’re at home so I try and keep it at that.
“That stops the boys getting into me as well!"