Storm’s plea: Don’t go, Billy
MELBOURNE have appealed for new Maroons captain Billy Slater not to quit the NRL and have hatched plans for the Queensland champion to suit up for a remarkable 17th season at the Storm next year.
D-Day is approaching for Slater, who will make a call on his NRL future after he leads the Maroons out in his 31st and final Origin match in Game Three this Wednesday night at Suncorp Stadium.
Slater is leaning towards drawing the curtain on his decorated career, but the Storm are refusing to give up hope after staving off a Broncos poaching bid to retain super coach Craig Bellamy.
The Courier-Mail can reveal the Storm have salary-cap space to accommodate Slater and will table a 12-month extension if the Maroons skipper decides his 35-year-old body can soldier on.
"We're hoping he keeps his football boots on for a bit longer," Storm football-operations chief Frank Ponissi said.
"We won't put pressure on Billy but there's no doubt he is playing well enough to keep going for another 12 months.
"Billy has been upfront and honest with us and he said he will give us an answer on his future after the Origin series.
"With players like Billy, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, you give them the ultimate respect to decide whether they want to continue playing or not.
"He has been phenomenal for our football club and he is as big as it gets for the NRL in an AFL city.
"Billy is also outstanding for our young blokes. We have a Plan A in place for Billy to play on and we have a Plan B if he doesn't play on.
"We're ready for either scenario."
There is a view that Slater's decision to walk away from representative football after Origin III can help him prolong his Storm career for another 12 months.
But Slater, who will equal Wally 'The King' Lewis with his 31st Origin game, is also wary of playing one season too many.
While his speed and fitness inspired the Maroons in Origin II, his recent hamstring injury, which ruled him out the series opener, was evidence Slater must watch his body in his twilight years.
A veteran of 310 NRL games, Slater hasn't ruled out playing on in 2019, but says he won't be influenced by Bellamy's decision to stay loyal to Melbourne.
"I will make a call sometime after Origin," he said.
"I probably won't wait until after the season like I did last year.
"We'll see how we go. I always thought this would be my last year but I want to be certain. I don't want to throw out a comment now (about retiring) that I might regret. At the moment, I'm feeling good, my body feels pretty solid.
"I was very happy to see Craig stay at the club, it means the foundation will continue, but Craig being at the Storm won't have an effect on what I'm doing."
Maroons coach Kevin Walters challenged his troops not to fail Slater in his Suncorp Origin swan song.
"It's a special moment for Billy captaining his state and the other 16 guys owe him a send-off that is just right," he said. "I know you don't always get what you want but for Billy to lead them out onto Suncorp is fantastic."
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