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Billy Slater farewells the Gold Coast crowd on Saturday.

Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has heaped praise on retired great Billy Slater for helping develop the wealth of young fullback talent coming through at his old club.

The Storm were on the lookout for a new No.1 when Slater retired at the end of last year and the race to take his mantle was run between a trio of fresh faces during the off-season.

Scott Drinkwater looked destined to receive first crack at the back until he hurt his pec during a trial game against the Cowboys, allowing Kiwi Jahrome Hughes to start at fullback through the first nine rounds.

Hughes was concussed during the Storm's 64-10 victory over the Eels and will miss the clash against Wests Tigers at AAMI Park on Thursday night, meaning impressive 20-year-old Ryan Papenhuyzen will win his first start of his fledgling career.

Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen.
Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Papenhuyzen has scored tries in his last two appearances off the bench for the Storm this season, with the most recent of those coming when he took over from Hughes at fullback during the thumping of the Eels.

While Papenhuyzen might have been considered a third-string fullback at the start of the year, many believe he could end up being the best player of the trio.

Slater put in many hours with the trio of fullbacks throughout the pre-season and Bellamy said the former Storm champion is one of the main reasons behind their recent growth.

"A lot of the credit... Billy has been a huge part of that," Bellamy said on Wednesday.

Every try from Round 9

"He comes in once a week and does a lot of work with our back three and our fullbacks.

"They are all asking to be educated and are all really keen and Billy is really keen to do it as well, so he has been real helpful."

Bellamy revealed Drinkwater was just two weeks away from returning to the Storm side, meaning the experienced mentor is likely to face a selection headache later in the season when all three of the fullbacks are available.

"It’s nice to be in that position, especially after Billy retired at the end of last year," Bellamy said.

"Repeating it week in week out is the hard part as young guys often aren’t used to the grind."

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Bellamy's immediate focus is ensuring the Storm back up their demolition of the Eels last week with another 80-minute display against Wests Tigers, who beat them twice in 2018.

"It's still pretty clear in my mind that they knocked us off twice in three weeks last season," Bellamy said.

"The one down here in Melbourne (in round two) was very disappointing too as it was Billy's 300th game.

"It's a different situation this year, but we all know they are a good side.

"Guys like Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah bring a great deal of experience to the younger guys and they are a dangerous team."

Acknowledgement of Country

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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