Storm have time - and options - regarding Slater's future
The Melbourne Storm will not scour the market if Billy Slater decides to bring down the curtain on his illustrious career at the end of 2018.
The 35-year-old off-contract Storm fullback told NRL.com in Maroons camp on Thursday that he would make a decision on his future between Origin III and the culmination of the Telstra Premiership season.
The Storm are prepared to wait on Slater's call but have three fullbacks on their books for 2019 who they will develop and utilise, with Jahrome Hughes the front-runner.
Slater signed a one-year extension with the Storm for this season after winning the 2017 premiership but said he would not be waiting that long to make a call on his future beyond the expiry of his current deal.
He told NRL.com he would "more than likely" make his decision before the end of the season.
"I wanted to get through the Origin series and make a decision," he said.
"I had to make a decision last year but I left it until after the grand final. I was always thinking I'd play on but I wanted to make sure I was making the right one.
"I still haven't sat down and thought about my decision post this year.
"The Storm have been really good and so respectful. Last year I was coming back from a serious shoulder injury and didn't know where that was going to lead, but they haven't once pressured me and still haven't until this day."
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Storm football operations boss Frank Ponissi said the Storm had room in their salary cap to accommodate Slater and options if he decided to retire, and were prepared to wait for his decision.
"Bill has said all along that after Origin he will give some indication of what he is doing," Ponissi told NRL.com.
"We will not be waiting the morning after Origin for a decision because we have too much respect for the man to put any undue pressure on him, but it will be in the days or weeks after Origin.
"From our point of view we have a Plan A for him to be here next year and a Plan B to be without him, so we are really comfortable."
Hughes has played fullback for the Storm in Slater's absence and is signed long term.
Scott Drinkwater is another rising talent playing for Easts Tigers in the Intrust Super Cup and the Storm acquired Ryan Papenhuyzen from the Wests Tigers who is a 20-year-old fullback of promise.
"We certainly don't need to go and find another fullback," Ponissi said.
"If Billy decided not to play on we are not in the marketplace. We have ready-made replacements to slot in.
"We hope that he plays for another 10 years, but unfortunately good things come to an end.
"We will enjoy every game that Bill plays until he makes his final decision and walks away."
Ponissi said Slater and off-contract captain Cameron Smith were both in the same bracket in that the club would wait on their decisions.
"Players at the twilight end of their career sometimes need every possible last moment to make a decision," he said.
"Most of the time you do expect a decision from a player a lot earlier. They are exceptional players and they have exceptional circumstances."
The Storm are expecting Smith to go around again in 2019 but there are no guarantees.
Slater made a decision to retire from representative football at the end of this year's Origin series on the eve of game one, a call that was six months in the making.
"I had a feeling that last year's World Cup would be the last time I'd play for Australia," Slater said.
"At the start of this year, I had the feeling this was going to be my last Origin series.
"I spoke to my wife about it and made the decision. They are big decisions and you don't want to come back on them. You can jump the gun and regret it."
Slater and Smith's stellar Origin careers will be celebrated at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night and the new Maroons captain said it was an honour to be recognised alongside his great ally.
"Our careers have run parallel," he said. "We've played for the Storm for the last 16 years and for Queensland and Australia. It has been a great ride.
"He has made my job a lot easier just because he is so good at his. Having a tribute to our careers together is something I am proud of."
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