FULL TIME: BILLY Slater stole the hearts of every person inside ANZ Stadium as he fought back tears after Melbourne Storm romped their way to NRL Grand Final victory over the Cowboys.
Slater was overcome with emotion as soon as the siren sounded in Storm's 34-6 routing of the Cowboys.
"We were here last year and unfortunately we didn't get the chocolates," he said on stage.
"But we've got a great squad. We've got a few guys that are moving on. To those guys, I wish you all the best.
"Cooper, mate, I've played alongside you for the last 17 years. You've made me a ten-times better player. You have made us a ten-time better team. You were tremendous tonight and I wish you all the best in whatever you choose to do next year."
Slater then made one final thankyou.
"I'd like to thank one more person - and that is my wife. It has beep been a rocky road the last couple of years darl but I couldn't be standing here without your support.
"Thank you for everything that you have done for me over my career. But especially the last couple of years. I love you darl."
The Storm sent departing halfback Cooper Cronk out a title winner with a six tries to one dismantling of the underdog Cowboys.
After taking an 18-0 lead into halftime, the Storm crossed through Dale Finucane, Curtis Scott and Josh Addo-Carr in the second stanza to cap a dominant season with a grand final win.
Slater, who scored one of Melbourne six tries, fought back the tears when asked to sum up how it felt..
"It is a lot of hard workmate, a lot of heart hard work," he said. "To be as consistent and finish here on a Sunday afternoon today, it is a great performance. It was one that we have been doing it all year. We were very confident we could do it."
Asked if he ever thought he would get to this position, he added: "I didn't really know, mate. Sorry. I honestly didn't know whether my body would let me back here. It was the toughest thing I had to sit through last year and the boys going so close and being helpless. I wasn't going to let that happen today."
But the question on everyone's lips, will he go around again?
Slater is yet to confirm his plans for 2018, and he wasn't about to make decisions on Sunday night.
"I really don't know. My body is feeling good, I know it is physical. I love playing this game. I will make a decision soon. I am feeling good but I will just enjoy this, mate."
MELBOURNE 34 (J Addo-Carr 2 D Finucane F Kaufusi C Scott B Slater tries C Smith 5 goals)
NORTH QUEENSLAND 6 (T Martin try E Lowe goal) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Gerard Sutton. Crowd: 79,722.
EARLIER: THE Melbourne Storm will tackle North Queensland in the NRL grand final tonight.
It will be broadcast live on Channel 9.
We will bring you all the build-up to the NRL decider and all the action from ANZ Stadium live with our rolling coverage.
The Melbourne v North Queensland decider will now start at 7.30pm to ensure Nine gets the opportunity to run their most lucrative commercials of the season while four million viewers are glued to their sets waiting for the game to start.
SCROLL DOWN FOR THE LIVE COVERAGE
NRL spokesman Glenn Jackson told The Daily Telegraph big games are often delayed to ensure the 80,000 fans get into the ground on time.
The kick-off time is actually decided by the broadcaster under the NRL's television contract.
The later the kick-off the more Channel Nine's advertisers get in prime time.
Thankfully this is the last year Nine can determine starting times.
It is a huge frustration for fans on Origin nights and even Friday night football with kick-off times often delayed for the network.
Under the new TV agreement which starts next season, the NRL has full control of the playing schedule and kick-off time to major events.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.