ON THE MOVE: Scott Drinkwater  runs with the ball during an NRL trial match in February.
ON THE MOVE: Scott Drinkwater runs with the ball during an NRL trial match in February. Darrian Traynor

Slater: Drinkwater will be one hell of a player

Melbourne Storm legend Billy Slater has lamented the looming departure of his one-time heir apparent at the NRL powerhouse.

An embarrassment of fullback riches is set to cost the Storm the services of rising star Scott Drinkwater, whose move to North Queensland appears imminent.

Drinkwater had been groomed as Slater's replacement in the coveted No.1 jersey since he was plucked from the NSW central coast as a 17-year-old in 2015.

It was about the time he was playing alongside current Blues half Nathan Cleary for the Australian Schoolboys.

Following Slater's retirement at the end of last season, Drinkwater was earmarked to play round one but ruptured his pectoral in the final pre-season trial match.

His sidelining opened the door for journeyman Jahrome Hughes and bolter Ryan Papenhuyzen to claim the fullback and bench utility spots.

Having returned to full fitness, Drinkwater, 22, has since been linked to the Cowboys, who were hoping to acquire him before the June 30 cut-off.

"I really feel for Scott Drinkwater,” said Slater, who still works with the Storm in a part-time coaching capacity.

"To be honest, out of the three, he's probably got the most brilliance with ball in hand. He could be a special player in our game.

"I understand he's looking for an opportunity in first grade.

"I would hate to lose him. I know how good he can be.

"At the same time, I would understand his position to want that opportunity.

"If he does go somewhere, they are are going to get one hell of a player.”

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 22: Jahrome Hughes of the Kiwis  scores a try during the Oceania league test between the Kiwis and Mate Ma'a Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium on June 22, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
FULLBACK FIGHT: Jahrome Hughes (the incumbent No.1 at Melbourne Storm) scores a try for the Kiwis against Tonga on Saturday. Fiona Goodall

Hughes, who debuted for the Titans six years ago before a stint with the Cowboys, has been a standout of late. He scored three tries in the Storm's past two games and one on debut for the Kiwis on Saturday.

"He's such a good football player - you can play him in the halves, anywhere in the outside backs really - and he would do an outstanding job for you,” Slater said of the 24-year-old.

"He's really locked that No.1 jersey down at the moment ... making it really hard for the other guys. The competition (for spots) is certainly pushing Jahrome along as well.”

The pint-sized Papenhuyzen, 21, filled in for Hughes at fullback in round 10, but is otherwise providing energy in bursts off the bench.

"Craig Bellamy is not a coach who is going to put a 82kg fullback on the bench but Paps has demanded that spot because of his willingness to go out there and perform a role.

"He's a tough, exciting, fast, speedy player ... and creates opportunities for the team when he gets on there.”