Melbourne forward Ryan Hoffman says World Cup-winning Billy Slater’s knee surgery has gone well and expects his back for round one of the 2014 NRL season.

Veteran Melbourne forward Ryan Hoffman is expecting his World Cup-winning teammate Billy Slater to be ready for NRL round one after successful surgery on his knee.

Slater went under the knife this week after returning from Australia’s triumphant World Cup campaign in the UK, where he suffered a knee injury in the quarter-final.

It was initially feared it would end his tournament but he recovered to star in the Kangaroos’ final against New Zealand.

Hoffman visited his good friend on the way to Melbourne training and said the minor surgery had gone well.

“I just popped into Bill’s house and he’s got his knee resting up but he’s really happy and he said the surgeon was really happy with how everything went so I’m sure he will be fighting fit by the time the season starts,” Hoffman said.

Slater and his World Cup teammates Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk aren’t due back at Storm headquarters for training until January 20.

Hoffman said the absence of those stars gave some of the youngsters a chance to stake a claim at training for first-grade honours.

“We got through the stage every year at Origin when those stars aren’t around so, the more combinations we can, have the better.”

One vacancy is at five-eighth following the departure of England international Gareth Widdop to St George Illawarra and the retirement of Brett Finch.

Hoffman said there were three leading contenders in Ben Hampton, former Canterbury player Joel Romelo and Queensland Cup player Cody Walker.

“We’ve got Benny who played a couple of games last year. He’s been quite vocal at training which has been really encouraging so he’s certainly putting his hand up.

“Cody Walker, we bought down from Brisbane Easts, has been training really well but also Joel Romelo might be a bit of a dark horse for that position.”

Hoffman was unlucky to miss Kangaroo selection and said, although his non-selection hurt, he felt good heading into his 12th season.

“I was really disappointed I didn’t make the team but it was a big year for me, playing every game and Origin which is something I haven’t done for a while.

“It was a great opportunity to put my feet up and rest the legs so, physically, I’m feeling fantastic and I’m feeling really fresh mentally.”