Ahead of Friday's #NRL game between Penrith Panthers and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, writer Rob C...
8 hours ago
Dynamic Melbourne speedster Billy Slater has recovered from his injury problems and declared his intention to enter the crowded race for the Queensland No.1 jersey.
Slater made a memorable State of Origin debut for the Maroons last year, playing three games on the wing and scoring the try of the season in Queensland's lone victory.
That fueled his resolve for representative football and this season he wants to return at fullback - the most competitive position in the Queensland side.
Penrith's Rhys Wesser is the incumbent and won't give up the position without a fight, while Brisbane teenager Karmichael Hunt and North Queensland's Matt Bowen will keep the pair honest.
"Last year I was just happy to get a jersey," Slater said from the central Queensland town of Longreach, where he and Storm teammates Dallas Johnson and Steve Bell were taking part in coaching clinics as part of the Qantaslink program.
"I would have taken No.18 if it was up for grabs. This year I have more of a goal to push for that No.1 jersey.
"Then again, if they need me on the wing and they want to put someone else back there I'll take that too and do my best to win the game for Queensland.
"If the team needs me on the wing that's where I'll play."
Slater is edging back to peak fitness after undergoing off-season groin surgery, an injury which restricted his fabled speed and ruled him out of contention for the Kangaroo tour.
And the 21-year-old sounded a warning ahead of next month's premiership opener against Newcastle.
"I think I can get quicker as I get fitter," he said.
"My speed is probably not 100 per cent at the moment but it's right up there.
"I'm still not as fit as I was in the first year just due to the injury I had. I have only been training for two months now. It's feeling a lot better than last year.
"Hopefully halfway through the year, if all goes well with the injury, I might be at full fitness. That's another goal I've had for this year - to get as fit as I can and play as well as I can.
"Everyone that plays their first year in Origin wants to back it up with another year. I have to focus on getting fit and playing the best footy I can with Melbourne."
Slater's cause will receive a fillip if the Storm make an enterprising start to the season.
The club lost senior forwards in the off-season in the form of Rodney Howe, Danny Williams and Kirk Reynoldson.
But they have some promising youngsters on their books including outside back Greg Inglis, who has been compared with Slater's Queensland teammate Justin Hodges in terms of size and strength.