With State of Origin kicking off tonight, we got Nicole Slater’s thoughts on what it’s like to follow your dreams in the shadow of a football superstar.

Nicole Slater

Nicole Slater

WAGs, or wives and girlfriends of sports players, for the uninitiated, are historically not the most popular creatures. More than any other group jostled into the spotlight they’re forced to justify their existence, their appearances are scrutinised and they’re no stranger to online abuse.

With the first State of Origin bout kicking off tonight, footy fever has swung into high gear. But with fans’ eyes and ears focused on the field, not a lot of thought is spared for the wives who sit on the sidelines. No one knows the trials and tribulations of being a Queensland ‘WAG’ better than Nicole Slater. As the wife of NRL hero Billy Slater she’s no stranger to the sporting spotlight, but that hasn’t stopped the easygoing mum-of-two from following her own dreams.

As a successful artist with a growing international profile, Nicole runs her own commission business and studio, Nicole Rose Art. She’s quick to point out that while her husband’s public profile has helped her get a leg up in the publicity stakes, at the end of the day her work has to stand on its own.

“I’ve had my business for about 12 years,” she says.”Even when I was in school I was doing commission work. It was very hard to start off because art is not very big in Australia. I know that some countries have it in their culture to buy art and have it in their homes but that’s not the way here. It’s a hard industry to get into.

“When I first started off I was working in a bar and doing all sorts of jobs on the side,always putting money back into my business. When Bill and I decided to move to Melbourne I started out in the markets and I was working 24/7 trying to make this happen. My work got picked up by a gallery and then I decided I was going to do my own exhibition. I held it at Federation Square and it was a big step for me because most people don’t do that, they normally have exhibitions with other artists.

“At first it was very hard for people to accept that I was doing this. They thought I sold art because I was Billy Slater’s wife. At the end of last year I was approached by Agora Gallery in New York to create an audition piece, to see if I could be represented by them. That was the biggest thing to happen to me that year and it was because of my work. They don’t know who Billy Slater is.”

Nicole says Billy is the biggest cheerleader when it comes to her career, but that doesn’t mean she’s able to put herself first.

“My business comes last in some areas,” she says without a hint of resentment. “Obviously Bill’s business is the main one in our lives. It controls everything, so unfortunately I’m always the one to sacrifice my job. But Bill’s a big supporter of what I do. The way I look at it is I’ll have my art for the rest of my life, while it’s only been the last ten years or so that Bill’s business comes first. When Bill finishes his career, then I can spend time on my job for the rest of my life.”

While other families have stocked up on goodies to see them though tonight’s game or pulled out their best maroon duds to wear to Suncorp Stadium, the Slaters’ ritual has been a little different. Billy’s family have only been able to see him once since he headed off for training camp over a week ago, and Nicole has just jetted into Queensland with their young children, Tyla (5) and Jake (3).

Nicole-art-work

Art work by Nicole Slater

“I’m not really into the footy,” she says, mentioning that her pregame prep has involved taking the kids to Dreamworld and dropping in to visit friends like Lincoln Lewis. “I look forward to seeing friends and catching up with everybody, and if there is any game to be excited about, it’s Origin.There is a bus for families where we can follow the boys, they get a police escort so we drive with them. I’ve got some very close friends on the Blues side so I go and say hello to them at the game. For me, and I can’t speak for everyone, we’re easygoing. It’s not like we’re there saying, ‘I can’t talk to you this week’.”

Behind her happy and relaxed demeanor, however, is a hint of tension. Nicole knows her husband is putting himself in danger by stepping out onto a field that’s seen more than enough injuries.

“He has three plates in his face from injury and he’s broken his collar bone,” Nicole says. “But injuries happen, they happen in day to day life. My dad passed away riding his motorbike home. I don’t get too involved in the games, I don’t know all the rules, but I do that for a reason. I don’t want to get too involved, otherwise I’ll have too much anxiety and worry. I know he is a targeted player, but then he always has been. So obviously the Origin steps it up a little with how rough they can be. His safety has always been the priority for me, not how well he plays.”

Injuries and relentless training schedules aside, Nicole is adamant that when it comes to following her dreams, nothing is going to stand in her way.

“In art or in any industry, you’ve got to work hard for it,” she says. “Its taken me 12 years to get where I am and I need to keep going. I want to keep conquering.”

You can see more of Nicole’s work by visiting www.nicoleroseart.com.au.

Have you ever had to put your partner’s career before yours? How do you make it work? Let us know in the comments below!