Billy Slater has been picked to feature for Melbourne at this weekend’s Auckland Nines – but not as a player.
The recovering Test fullback will travel to New Zealand as coach Craig Bellamy’s assistant along with Kiwi prop Jesse Bromwich.
Storm fans had hoped Slater would launch his rugby league comeback from a shoulder reconstruction at Eden Park.
The Queensland flyer has not been sighted since the Maroons’ Origin II loss to NSW in June.
The low-key Storm squad will also be without the remainder of their “Big Three”: skipper Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.
Blake Green has been named captain of a Storm squad featuring Kiwi international Tohu Harris, Queensland Emerging Origin squad member Cameron Munster and Fijian speedster Marika Koroibete.
The availability of Munster may be in doubt after he was blacklisted by Queensland selectors for a year after breaching curfew at an Emerging Origin camp in Brisbane at the weekend.
Munster is one of six players being investigated by the QRL and the NRL integrity unit.
Storm assistant coach Adam O’Brien said the Nines would provide their young squad a chance to push for first-grade spots before the 2016 season proper.
“We are taking probably our most experienced squad that we’ve taken over since the Nines started,” he said on the Storm website.
“We are not taking guys who haven’t earned the right to get on the plane.
“They are ready to play, whether it’s Nines or trials they are really itching to get out there and compete.”
The squad includes off-season recruits Jeremy Hawkins, Mark Nicholls and Curtis Scott.
Melbourne will also play pre-season trials against Wests Tigers (February 13) and the Bulldogs (February 20) before their March 7 season opener against the Dragons at home.
“Just looking at the guys that are going over there to compete, whilst they are competing against other sides in the NRL they are still vying for spots in our trials,” O’Brien said.
“There is some healthy competition for a large number of spots. It is their first chance to go out there and show the coach what they’ve got.”
Storm’s Nines squad: Curtis Scott, Young Tonumaipea, Richie Kennar, Cameron Munster, Marika Koroibete, Blake Green (capt), Brodie Croft, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Ben Hampton, Mark Nicholls, Kenny Bromwich, Tohu Harris, Dale Finucane, Nafe Seluini, Jeremy Hawkins, Dean Britt, Joe Stimson, Tony Tumusa.