Storm great Billy Slater.

When Cooper Cronk left the Storm after winning the 2017 Telstra Premiership, predictions of the club's decline proved wide of the mark as they charged to yet another grand final in 2018.

But with Billy Slater now hanging up the boots, leaving Cameron Smith as the last of the 'Big Three' still at Melbourne but with some young guns on the up, do the Storm have what it takes to replace the irreplaceable?

For those of us born anything much after 1950 who did not get to witness Clive Churchill live, the mercurial Slater is the best fullback we've ever witnessed – certainly over a long career.

The Storm clearly missed him in his injury-enforced absence in 2015-16 and his late-career return in 2017 to help them to another premiership was simply sublime.

Despite turning 35 in the middle of 2018 he was near his best most of the season again, with the club falling one hurdle short of another premiership when downed by Cronk's Roosters in the decider.

NRL.com Stats highlights just how dominant Slater has been since his return from injury and just how big of a gulf he will leave when Craig Bellamy's men return to action in March.

In those two seasons, Slater notched 30 try assists – among fullbacks this trails only budding superstar Tom Trbojevic (33). His 23 line-break assists again trailed only Trbojevic (27).

His 27 line breaks were equal-fourth among fullbacks (Trbojevic with 43 led from Val Holmes and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck) and his 18 tries ranked him behind Trbojevic (21), Holmes (20) and Alex Johnston (19).

His 66 offloads were easily the most of any fullback (James Tedesco 60 was second) and his four kicks leading to tries was two more than any other fullback. Remarkably he conceded zero penalties in this period and with close to 130 metres per game he was still getting through plenty of grunt work.

Crucially, his 31 victories in that period (from 41 games) was comfortably the most of any fullback with Darius Boyd's 28 next best (Holmes was involved in 30, but six of those were as a winger).

The logical answer for Bellamy is to leave the halves pairing of Brodie Croft and Cameron Munster intact and give Jahrome Hughes first crack at fullback, with Scott Drinkwater the back-up and Hughes able to provide cover in the halves if needed.

To date, Hughes' seven games at fullback for the Storm have yielded just three line-break assists and one try assist but his running game has been excellent, with nine line breaks, five tries, 157 meters per game and 38 tackle busts at over five per game.

Munster had his best season in 2018 (the grand final notwithstanding) and there will be plenty of pressure on he and Smith to do plenty of ball-playing as Croft continues his development but all four will likely need to be at their best to cover the massive gulf Slater leaves behind.