Brandon Smith has tipped rival Melbourne hooker Harry Grant to start on the bench in his belated return for the Storm.
Grant injured his knee in a pre-season trial, giving Smith the opportunity to start at No.9 over the opening four rounds of the NRL. Melbourne are 2-2.
New Zealand Test rake Smith may ultimately be benched due to Grant’s return, after the younger player starred for Wests Tigers and Queensland last season.
Grant was expected to replace Cameron Smith as first-choice hooker before his injury, though Brandon Smith believes he may get another chance to start next Saturday against the Bulldogs, even if Grant returns.
“I think he’s back this week,” Smith said on The Sunday Footy Show.
“I don’t know what those plans are moving forward. I think for the first game, Harry will probably come off the bench, I’m not too sure.
“But the best thing about Craig Bellamy is he’s super transparent. He’s not going to beat around the bush or anything. If you’re not starting, he’ll just go up and tell you to your face.
“I’m sure there’ll be a conversation around what happens next week but whatever happens, that’s the decision and Craig’s doing what he thinks is best for the team. I can’t complain about that.”
Yet a demotion for Smith will reignite speculation about a switch to another NRL club, with his apprenticeship well and truly over. He is contracted until the end of next season, meaning that he’s able to negotiate with other clubs from November 1 this year.
Smith would represent an upgrade at starting hooker for most teams and has long backed himself to become Melbourne’s top No.9. He said that he had enjoyed starting, having bided his time on the bench for so long behind Cameron Smith, only for Grant to rise as his potential replacement.
The ‘Block of Cheese’ also revealed that superstar fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen had, to some extent, filled the leadership void left by Cameron Smith’s retirement.
“Obviously it’s a lot different now because every time games started to go to s–t, he (Cameron Smith) would just bring it back together,” Smith said.
“He’d be the guy that talked and with captains like Jesse Bromwich, he’s not really a words kinda guy, he’s more an actions leader; so it’s hard for us to have that calming head cooling us down.
“But Ryan Papenhuyzen’s really stepping up his game with that as well. You see in team meetings and stuff like that, he’s just taking over meetings. I think he’s going to be a superstar, old ‘Paps’.
“We miss Smithy a lot – but I don’t miss him too much!”
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