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Slater backs Storm to defy the critics again

Melbourne legend Billy Slater has warned the naysayers to write off his former team at their peril and has predicted last year's runners-up to once again have a successful season.

The Storm haven't finished worse than sixth since 2003, but the retirement of Slater and fellow veteran Ryan Hoffman at the end of last year has pundits north of the Murray River predicting a big slide in 2019 for Craig Bellamy's team.

Slater said it was fraught with danger to predict where sides would finish this year, but remains steadfast in his high expectations for the Storm.

"It is really hard to write the Storm off as we haven't missed a finals series for the last 16 years, other than in 2010," Slater said on Monday at the unveiling of the Slater Stand at the northern end of AAMI Park in Melbourne.

"The coaching staff and playing group expect to be successful ... and our starting 17 are quite stable.

"We have still got Cameron Smith leading the way and he's a fantastic captain, leader and player and what he brings to our team is certainly not undervalued.

"We are going to need him more than ever with the leadership and the experience that has left over the last few years."

Storm season preview - NRL Teams

Slater said his decision to retire following the Storm's loss to the Roosters in last year's premiership decider remained the right one, although he expects to miss running out with his former teammates when the Broncos come to Melbourne for the season opener on Thursday night.

"There's no doubt I will get itchy feet at some stage and it will probably be at 7.30pm on Thursday night," he said.

"But that is the decision I have made and I am extremely comfortable with where my career sits and what I have been able to do.

"I understand you can't play forever and I probably had a few more games in me, but I'm very comfortable with what I have done and where I am heading."

Slater has been part of the Storm family since debuting way back in 2003 and remains at the club in a mentoring role for the younger players that are expected to step up in his absence.

Two of those players are young backs Scott Drinkwater and Jahrome Hughes, who battled it out throughout the pre-season to take over Slater's No.1 jersey in 2019.

It looked like Drinkwater was going to get first crack at the back, but a pec injury during a trial against the Cowboys in Mackay means Hughes will get the chance to make the position his own at the start of the season.

"Jahrome Hughes is an accomplished fullback," Slater noted.

"He played a lot of football in the halves last year and he knows what first-grade football is about."

Hughes, who made 11 appearances for Storm last year, said a pre-season leaning on Slater for advice has him well placed to make an immediate impact.

"I have got to take a bit of confidence from last year and the times I did fill in," Hughes said.

"The injury is unfortunate for [Drinkwater] but I know he will be back bigger and stronger.

"I actually texted [Slater] on the weekend and he got back to me straight away with a few tips that he thinks can help me out for this week.

"I am still trying to pick his brain every time I see him and he has got a lot up there so hopefully I can keep picking it for the coming years."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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