THIS YEAR IS THE FOCUS: Billy Slater is happy to be back on the field for the Melbourne Storm.
THIS YEAR IS THE FOCUS: Billy Slater is happy to be back on the field for the Melbourne Storm. PAUL MILLER

Slater's loving being back on the paddock

RUGBY LEAGUE: Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater has thought about next year, but for now, he just wants to play.

The 33-year-old off-contract superstar is careful not to take football for granted after missing the best part of two NRL premiership seasons with injury.

"I'd be lying if (I said) you don't think about it every now and again... but, (after last two seasons) I think about things weekly now and just really enjoy what I've got," Slater told the Herald Sun.

"If I start thinking about next year it will all be done before I know it."

Importantly, Slater's confidence is building after playing in two tough wins over Brisbane Broncos and West Tigers.

Slater carried the ball 11 times last week for 72 metres and 11 tackles in his first full game since round five, 2015.

"It's good to have a couple of hit-outs under my belt and the more footy I play the more confident I'll be," Slater said looking forward to Saturday's match with Penrith at AAMI Park.

"They play a really unpredictable style. They're so dangerous, if we defend like we did in the first half an hour (against Tigers) they certainly have the power to put points on you really quick.

"We're going to have to sharpen up on our defence. They weren't one of the favourites for competition at the start of the year for no reason."

Slater said Storm must eradicate the slow starts in games.

The Tigers piled on two unanswered tries last week before Storm got going with three second-half tries to maintain their unbeaten run.

"It's something that we've been conscience of over the last few weeks," Slater said.

"It's easy to gloss over these things when you're 4-0 but we're certainly conscious of how we're starting football games.

"We didn't perform well last week and we were able to get away with the game which is a great sign but we certainly won't be sweeping anything under the carpet."

Slater praised his opposite number, Panthers No.1 Matt Moylan, in what looms an intriguing battle within the war at AAMI Park.

"He's a really involved fullback, for not a big guy, he touches the ball a lot, so he'll be a huge indicator for where their danger is going to lie," Slater said.

"He's a good young man, and a really talented footballer. He's already reached the heights of State of Origin. He's going to have a big future in the game."

As for his own Origin ambitions, Slater says it is too soon to consider pulling on the Maroons jersey.

"I'm just really enjoying being back playing football," Slater said.

"Origin is still a number of weeks away, and I've always said Origin is not about me. It's about Queensland and what's best for that team."

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