Slater targets 2017 return

Injured Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater is itching to pull on the purple jersey once again, setting his sights on returning in the opening round of the 2017 NRL season.

Slater overcame his shoulder injury and featured in Round 1 this year only to damage the same shoulder once again, ruling him out for the remainder of 2016.

Slater said his rehab is tracking nicely and has just recently begun to increase his workload, which has given the 33-year-old renewed confidence. 

"It's coming along really well, I've been able to step it up over the last few weeks and things are moving along really nicely. I just had some physio today and I'll be coming into the club a lot more regularly now so I'm looking forward to that," Slater said. 

"Unfortunately I'm becoming a bit used to being a spectator and sitting on the sidelines, but it is what it is, and I can't do much about it so I've just got to look at the positives and do whatever I can to get my shoulder as healthy as I can to hopefully get back out there next year.

"I certainly can [see myself playing next year], that's what's driving me to come in and do my rehab, I hope to be there in Round 1 next year and if all goes well, I'll be lacing the boots up for the Storm next year."

In Slater's absence the Storm have dealt with business as usual, currently finding themselves in second position through 16 rounds.

Slater knows his side has what it takes to make a deep run in the finals, but admitted that a lot still has to go right for the Storm to win the premiership.

"I've got no doubts about what we can achieve this year," Slater said.

"A lot of things have to go your way to get to the last day however, including injuries and playing good football at the right time like we're playing some good football right now, but we've got to make sure that we're doing that in 14 weeks' time. It's a long season and hitting your straps at the right time is vital."

For the second year running, Cameron Munster has stepped up in the place of Slater, and is playing the most consistent football of his career.

An ankle injury has sidelined Munster for the past two weeks, and winger Young Tonumaipea has stepped into the fullback role for the time being, which Slater said is a testament to the club's persona.

"I think with the Melbourne Storm, whenever someone gets injured, someone just jumps in and does the job for them," Slater said. 

"Young was great last night and Cameron has been great all year, as he was terrific last year. He's taken his game to a new level, so hopefully we can get him back onto the park this week, but Young is doing a great job, and we've also got Ben Hampton there that plays a number of positions and Tohu Harris is playing in the No.6 as a back-rower. 

"Everyone seems to jump in and fill a role for us, and the wheels just keep turning."

Slater in particular has built up a strong rapport with Munster and is confident that the young fullback has the potential to elevate his game to a much higher level.

"I've worked a little bit with Cameron Munster, especially over the last 12 months, and I thought his last game against the Roosters was probably his best performance of his career," Slater said.

"He's certainly moving along in leaps and bounds and hopefully he can continue to improve, because it's scary where he can actually get to, he's playing terrific at the moment and for a relatively inexperienced guy he's certainly playing like an old head."


This article first appeared on NRL.com