Almost everyone forgot that Melbourne star Billy Slater was missing from their premiership push last season – everyone but his skipper.
Little known commodity Cameron Munster took the NRL by storm last season, breaking out with a run of form at fullback that seemed to counter Slater’s absence .
It wasn’t until being booted out by eventual premiers North Queensland that the bubble burst on Munster and coach Craig Bellamy’s stubborn outfit.
But on the eve of the new season, Storm captain Cameron Smith admitted the team dearly missed the clutch play of their Australian and Queensland representative in the big games.
“As good as Cameron Munster played, it’s pretty hard to replace Billy Slater,” Smith said at the NRL’s season launch at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair in Sydney.
“He did a good job with the football and he ran strongly and he did his job as best he could in defence.
“But at times he missed opportunities with the ball. At times he was lacking a little bit of direction with his talk, something that Billy Slater does not miss. He only played (seven) games for us last year.
“And in the big games you need that experience.”
Slater, 32, continues to recover from the shoulder reconstruction he had last June and is racing the clock to be fit for their season-opener against St George-Illawarra.
But when he does, Smith backed his long-time teammate to return to his best.
“He’s looking very sharp. He’s moving better than I’ve seen him move in three-four years,” Smith said.
“He’s had some issues with his knees over the last couple of years and just that added layoff and then he’s returned, he started back pre-season early November so he’s got plenty of Ks in his legs.
“Just got to get that shoulder right now and once that’s ready to go, then we’ll see a pretty dynamic Billy Slater I believe.”
Smith cited an early start to pre-season due to the absence of Kangaroos Tests as a factor that would ensure he was firing from the season start.
The Storm open their season against the Dragons on March 7.