Slater return has the Storm buzzing
THE high performance boss who helped Steph Curry back from injury in last year's NBA finals has overseen Billy Slater's NRL comeback.
After 374 days on sidelines, Slater will return on Thursday night against Brisbane Broncos at AAMI Park.
Storm high performance director Lachlan Penfold and his team have worked closely with Slater over the past five months, plotting his rigorous training, strength and rehabilitation program.
"Everyone has worked as hard as they can to make sure Billy gets back to his best," Penfold told the Herald Sun.
"It wouldn't have gone as well if Billy wasn't as professional and dedicated and focused on his return."
Penfold joined Storm last October after working with NBA powerhouse Golden State Warriors during the record-breaking (73-9) 2015-16 campaign.
Curry sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee in game 4 of the NBA conference finals, but sensationally returned two weeks later to score 40 points off the bench.
Penfold sees key similarities in the way "top level guys" treat rehabilitation.
"Steph was probably one of the most humble blokes that I've worked with, and he was the hardest working player on that Warriors team," Penfold said.
"Billy works as hard, and Billy is a very humble guy as well for what he's achieved in his sport.
"They're not just (sitting) back waiting for you to tell them what to do, they're always asking what else can I do, what about if I do this ... can I try this, can I push this a little bit harder."
Slater has done everything asked of him and more to get back to playing first-grade football.
"I've done all my preparation. I started preseason in November and things have gone really well," Slater told Storm TV.
"I've got a fair bit of work under my belt. I've been doing contact for probably about four weeks ... I'm really comfortable with where things are at."
Storm coach Craig Bellamy said Slater should handle whatever the Broncos throw at him.
"Last 2-3 weeks has been full contact on big guys and everything's gone really well so we expect everything to go really well," Bellamy said.
"Everyone is really excited about Billy playing again. There's a genuine and a general buzz around the club."
Storm players are in awe of Slater's work in recent weeks. Kenny Bromwich said he looks "really sharp", while Joe Stimson said his childhood idol is "ready to rock and roll".
But Storm football director Frank Ponissi has urged fans to be patient, and give Slater time to find his feet.
"He's going to take a little while, he's not going to be the Billy of old straight away," Ponissi said.
"It would be impossible. As good as he is, one of the greatest players of all time, there's no way in the world he's going to go straight back to where he was."
With Slater locked in, Jesse Bromwich is the only game-time decision for Storm.
"If the medical staff give him the tick, then it's basically up to Jesse ... we don't want to take any chances with him, but having said that, he's keen to play."