A comeback date has not been set for Billy Slater but Cameron Smith says there is “no doubt” the veteran fullback will return to the NRL this year.
Smith on Friday confirmed Slater was no guarantee of playing Melbourne’s season opener against the Bulldogs on March 3 after a second straight shoulder reconstruction.
The Test and Queensland captain even hinted that Slater may miss the first few rounds.
However, Smith allayed fears over the 33-year-old’s NRL future.
“There’s no doubt Billy will be back this year,” Smith said.
“There’s no date locked in and that’s the way it should be – we are not putting pressure on him to be back although he would love to be there in round one.
“We would rather he be available for the majority of the year not just a few games and then reinjuring himself.”
Smith said Slater looked impressive at Storm training but would not take any risks after being limited to eight games in two years by shoulder dramas.
Especially after his disastrous 2016 return.
Slater returned from his initial year-long shoulder recovery in round one last year, only to aggravate the injury again.
“He is flying at training, doing contact sessions which is a great sign …but he’s not guaranteed to start round one,” Smith said.
“The most important thing is that we are not going to rush him back.
“He came back in round one last year, maybe the shoulder wasn’t quite right and he reinjured it – he is not going to make that same mistake again.”
Smith has tipped Cameron Munster to again fill Slater’s shoes at No.1 despite the young gun being named at pivot for Saturday’s NRL trial against New Zealand Warriors at Sunshine Coast.
“If we have to play the first few games without him (Slater) so be it – we have a pretty capable fullback there in Cameron Munster,” Smith said.
“He (Slater) will be back. I just think he doesn’t want to get people’s hopes up of a return date.
“But I can see the way he has been training there will be a time this year he will be playing.”
Munster is also a chance to replace Blake Green (Manly) at five-eighth in round one after being named at No.6 alongside Auckland Nines sensation Brodie Croft for the Warriors trial.
Young Tonumaipea will wear No.1 for Melbourne on Saturday.
The Storm’s 26-strong Sunshine Coast trial squad will feature just five players from their 2016 NRL grand final team.
Melbourne’s “big three” Smith, Cooper Cronk and Slater were not selected but the entire Storm squad has travelled to the Sunshine Coast.