Melbourne Storm?s first official day of pre-season training hasn?t so much been about welcoming a host of new faces, but rather it?s the return of some familiar ones that has the club buzzing.
As the Storm went through it?s paces today under the watchful eye of coach Craig Bellamy, it was the return of club stalwarts Scott Hill, Robbie Ross and Rodney Howe that proved most promising.
With Hill (shoulder), Howe (knee) and Ross (back) managing just 15 games between them this year, they are effectively like new recruits as the Storm prepares to better its sixth-placed finish of 2003.
With this year?s recruiting priority aimed at retaining top players such as Robbie Kearns, Scott Hill and Matt Geyer as well as unheralded performers in Steven Bell and Peter Robinson, the Storm hasn?t acquired a long list of new faces.
Melbourne has picked up a blend of youth and experience following the signings of former Parramatta front-rower Alex Chan and former Penrith youngsters Steve Turner and Luke Dyer.
For Chan the move to Melbourne represents an opportunity to put the past two years of injury hell behind him as the 28-year old looks to reclaim his status as one of the top-line front-rowers in the National Rugby League.
?This is a new start for me for sure, I?m feeling like a rookie again coming into a bunch of new guys,? said Chan, who left the Eels at the end of this season following his third broken arm in two years.
?It?s also a new experience for me with a lot of different systems under way that are very foreign to me, but it?s all really exciting.
?Hopefully I?ve seen the back of that run of injury, at the moment the body is feeling really good and a lot further on than I thought it would. I?m exciting by what?s happening already and really looking forward to what?s coming.?
In a year that promised so much 2003 was the most disappointing season of Hill?s career, ravaged by ongoing injury the former Test lock struggled to see out eight matches before a right shoulder injury finally ended his season at Olympic Park in round 23.
?It just feels good to be a part of the team whereas last year I didn?t really feel a part of the team being injured and not being able to participate in everything,? Hill said of his start to the pre-season program.
?It?s a process of time with my shoulder but I?ve been able to take part in all activities so far, there has been nothing I can?t do. You don?t normally look forward to a pre-season but for me it?s pretty exciting.?
This time last year rookie sensation Billy Slater was unheard of, 12 months later he is regarded as one of the NRL?s brightest young stars, but the 20-year old knows the value of a strong pre-season.
?I?m going to go into this pre-season as I did the last pre-season, I did have a year in first grade this year but I?ve still got to earn my spot if I?m to stay in the side,? said the Storm?s leading try-scorer of 2003.
With Robbie Ross looking to return to his customary fullback position in 2004 and exciting speedster Steve Turner joining the Storm?s roster, Slater may well find himself playing in a different role next year.
?At the start of this pre-season I?m not really going to focus on what position I?ll play next year, I?ll get fit and look to get stronger and then when it comes to the new year we?ll start looking at positional play,? Slater explained.
Australian Kangaroos vice-captain Robbie Kearns was the only Storm player not training today but he is expected to rejoin the playing group in the new year following his return from the Ashes tour of Europe.