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9 problems but a hooker ain't one: Knights and Storm two sides of the same coin

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Editor
17th August, 2020
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So the Storm managed to win without the two Camerons. But maybe, instead of the two Camerons, we should be discussing the two Smiths. Because bloody hell, what about Brandon?

The conversation this year has – justifiably – been around what happens in 2021 with regards to the Storm’s hooking role, because when voting went behind closed doors, Harry Grant was leading the Dally M count as the best player in the game.

But Harry is at the Tigers on a loan deal. He’s actually Melbourne’s next-best hooker.

Except… is he?

Brandon Smith is the incumbent Test No.9 for the Kiwis and just quietly steered the Storm around in their 24-6 trouncing of the Roosters.

And yes, yes the Chooks were down on troops, but the Storm were out on their feet as well – and before the game even started. No Cameron Smith. No Cameron Munster. They’re two of the five best players in the world.

Yet Brandon stepped up and led his team to a resounding victory over the two-time reigning premiers.

We talk about what Harry Grant is going to do next year because it’s a worthwhile conversation. If Cameron Smith decides to play on – and, jokes about him playing until he’s 70 aside, he has at least another year in his legs if he has the desire – then what does the Tigers’ temporary dummy-half do?

Except in among all this is what does Brandon Smith do?

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He’s a victim of his own brilliance. The best hooker in New Zealand, Brandon has to cool his heels because the best hooker of all time is at his club. So Brandon goes and plays wherever he’s required.

For most utilities, that means slotting in as a makeshift half, a ball-playing lock, or a centre with a fierce cut-out ball.

Brandon? Um, he just goes and plays prop.

What do you even mean? Andrew Johns calls prop the easiest but hardest position in the game. It’s reserved for the biggest and scariest of men. Brandon weighs in at 94 kilos, but he has more than held his own in the middle.

Hard, hard man. A rugby league champion the likes of which I can’t recall.

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But he wants to play hooker, because he’s awesome at it. And Craig Bellamy has the headache in 2021 of whether he’s going to select Cameron Smith (the greatest hooker of all time), Brandon Smith (the greatest hooker in New Zealand) or Harry Grant (the greatest young hooker in the game) as his No.9.

Harry Grant looks on

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

It’s a good headache to have. But it’s still a headache.

Meanwhile, in Newcastle, the Curse of the Buderus continues to haunt the red and blue.

First-choice hooker Jayden Brailey does his ACL and is out for the year.

So the Knights take advantage of the fact the Broncos are a dumpster fire and sign former Origin hooker Andrew McCullough – with Brisbane somehow also managing to pay a load of his freight.

Of course, McCullough rips the hamstring from the bone and his season is over.

No worries, Connor Watson played hooker at the back end of last year and was great.

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So six minutes after McCullough’s season is ended, Watson ruptures his Achilles and he’s finished for 2020 as well.

Three of Newcastle’s best and highest-paid players are out for the year. What’s to be done?

Easy, move Kurt Mann to 9.

Kurt Mann runs with the ball

Kurt, Mann! (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Hooker? Injured. Hooker? Injured. Hooker? Injured.

Sweet, just put your best player in at hooker.

It’s bonkers when you think about it – the Knights’ fourth-choice No.9 doubles as their finest, most consistent competitor of 2020.

Mann is the presumptive Danny Buderus Medalist as the club’s best and fairest (I said as much to the pair when I took the lead image of them at the game on Sunday), and while a top-eight finish should be all Adam O’Brien is worried about, in this crazy, injury-ravaged season, any team who makes the finals could shake things up and be there on grand final day.

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At this stage, you’d be brave or stupid to bet against Brandon’s Storm – and, with the Camerons out, it is Brandon’s Storm – being there on October 25.

Quite how it all shapes up for Melbourne at No.9 next year is anyone’s guess. Could be Cameron Smith. Could be Brandon Smith. Could be Harry Grant.

Good headache? I dunno. Just sounds like a headache.

Newcastle? Could be Jayden Brailey. Could be Andrew McCullough. Could be Connor Watson.

At the moment, it’s Kurt Mann.

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And honestly, the fourth choice is my preference.