Feeling better than he has in years, veteran Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater says his injury-enforced lay-off has been a blessing.
But with Melbourne's test skipper Cameron Smith to miss the start of the NRL season following ankle surgery, Slater added his voice to calls for the volume of league games to be reduced, arguing the current schedule continues to take a toll on players.
A battered Slater missed Australia's Four Nations campaign, but the upside was he was able to undergo surgery and get a jump on his fitness work.
The 31-year-old recently had three rounds of surgery - a shoulder reconstruction, an arthroscopy on his left elbow and laser eye treatment.
Slater found out this season he was near-sighted, although didn't know if it had affected his game.
Usually the test custodian returns in January and has to play catch-up - but this time around he was able to start pre-season training in November for the first time since 2007.
"I'm quite enjoying getting some work and volume into my body, which I haven't been able to do over the last few years," Slater said.
"My decision was made for me with my shoulder but looking back now it's a blessing in disguise for the rest of my body.
"I'm feeling as good now as I've felt over the last three or four years."
Slater says the NRL must look at reducing the match schedule, which can include World Club Challenge, All-Stars, Nines, State of Origin and Test matches on top of the usual NRL season plus finals.
This year's long list of injury withdrawals from the Australian Four Nations team is evidence of the toll such games are taking.
"Certainly something should be done," Slater said.
"I think the season's probably too long in itself and then you add all of the other extras on to it and it's a really long season.
"With television rights we're bound into contracts where we can't reduce the amount of games we're playing at the moment but I think with the next deal it's something that we really need to look at."
Slater said he was open to playing four 25-minute quarters as a trade-off to the broadcasters. AAP