Storm coach Craig Bellamy admits he's surprised by how well Billy Slater has come back from two season-ending shoulder surgeries following the star fullback's two-try haul in the 34-22 win over the Dragons on Sunday afternoon.
Having missed out on what would have been a fairytale recall to the Kangaroos side earlier in the week, Slater produced his best game of the season with two tries, a couple of assists and an incredible try-saving tackle on Tim Lafai that he had no right to make.
Bellamy revealed he had spoken to Slater over a cup of coffee a few days before the Dragons game to tell him how well he'd come back to rugby league, but didn't divulge to the 33-year-old the fears he held about how he would return after two injury-plagued years away from the game.
"I thought [with] the break he had at his age it could have gone either way," Bellamy said.
"It might have helped freshen him up and come back fresh, but that long out of the game – and at that age – it could have gone the other way and the game could have gone past him a bit.
"I never said that to him but that's what I was thinking.
"The thing that has stuck with me is that he still seems to be as sharp as he was. He has worked remarkably hard to get back to where he's got to. If he didn't work as hard as he has, the second option is the one that probably would have gone down.
"The amount of work that he's put in, he's getting reward for it and we're getting reward for it now."
 Slater Billy - Storm
Slater's second-half double saw him end a try-scoring drought dating back to Round 9, 2015 when he crossed twice in a Sunday afternoon win over the Eels, and it was no surprise to see him seek out Cameron Smith as the first player to celebrate with.
The pair share an incredible bond – they were born on the same day in the same year – and it's that intimacy that led Smith to offer a different opinion to what his coach put forward.
"I'm probably a bit different to Craig; I wasn't overly surprised by the way he's come back and the way he's playing. I was always really confident he'd get back to his best footy," Smith said.
"I've spent a bit more time near him at training and away from training [so I got a better insight] into what he was thinking about his physical state.
"I think that two-year break helped him refresh physically and mentally, but more so physically. Two years ago he was pretty beat up – not just his shoulder – but his entire body.
"The one thing that never changed over those two years was the way he went about his training. He's always made an emphasis on working extremely hard and staying fit. Being a fullback and doing the amount of work that he does in games, you need to be extremely fit.
"He played really well again today, scored his first try in two years which he was pretty happy about [so] you might see a more relaxed Billy Slater now because he's been searching for that white line for a few weeks now."
While he's been taken aback by how well Slater has performed this year Bellamy sent a stern warning to the rest of the competition, hinting the Storm's No.1 can get even better.
"I think it's a bit early to say that he's back to his best, but geez he's getting close," Bellamy said.
"His game on Anzac Day was way above expectations, and to back up five days later and put that performance in today, he's getting close to it."