Melbourne have called Brandon Smith’s bluff by not sacking him a year out from the end of his contract. That would have been playing into the hands of the Kiwi forward and his agent.
Smith is yet to officially confirm it but he’s all but certain to be a Sydney Rooster in 2023 after telling the YTKR podcast “I was just looking at the Roosters jersey as he was saying it and I had goosebumps. I was looking at it going, I want to win a premiership in that jersey” after a rev-up chat from retired club stalwart Mitch Aubusson.
The Storm announced on Tuesday afternoon that they’d been told by Smith he would not be re-signing beyond the end of 2022 after the player himself had earlier issued a statement to address media speculation and his comments on the podcast.
“Over the past two months I’ve read multiple headlines about me day in day out, many of which were untrue and none that came from my mouth directly. I done [sic] this podcast for that very reason – to be fully transparent about the process I have been going through.
Statement from Brandon Smith. pic.twitter.com/PQBVlg7BfN
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) November 30, 2021
“It’s honestly been really exciting throughout and I’m truly grateful to be in the position I’m in.
“One thing I pride myself on is being myself and regardless of backlash I will continue to do so. That being said I do acknowledge and want to apologise for how some of the comments have been received.”
Referring to the Storm, he claimed “it was never my intent to disrespect or come across as ungrateful to the club that has done so much for me and my family”.
“And that goes for my coaches, members, staff and most of all my teammates. I speak from the heart – for better or worse sometimes – and I’m sorry if anyone was hurt by my words.”
It’s hard to walk it back when you’ve publicly stated in a podcast that the Storm are renowned for their culture of “so many piss-ups” and that the football and commercial entities operate separately whereas the Roosters seem like a unified club.
And this is the same Melbourne club which stood by Smith, along with teammates Cameron Munster and Chris Smith, when footage emerged of them enjoying a post-season party in the vicinity of some kind of “white powder” which was clearly not laundry detergent.
Last month the Storm sanctioned the trio on top of the one-game suspension and fines handed out by the NRL – $30,000 for Munster, $15,000 for Smith and $4000 for Lewis based on their salaries.
Smith’s extra club punishment was a $50,000 suspended fine – they would potentially be within their rights to enact that after his recent actions – as well as being stood down from the emerging leadership group and agreeing to consult with the club’s medical team and health professionals to “individualise a comprehensive ongoing welfare program”.
Storm CEO Justin Rodski on Tuesday said Smith’s podcast comments “and the way he expressed them, do not align with Storm’s values and the way we operate as a club.
“The statements have deeply offended current and former players, coaches, staff and board members and the club strongly rejects the comments made about the Storm culture.
“We acknowledge Brandon’s apology made on social media today and his willingness now to prepare for the 2022 season with Storm.”
They were rightly furious with Smith’s actions, particularly after he said in the podcast he’s made up his mind on his next contract, believing they would have the last chance to negotiate a new deal after his much-hyped tour of the Cowboys, Bulldogs, Dolphins, Titans and Roosters.
At least Smith again took ownership for his actions in his Tuesday apology, adding “at the end of the day they are my words”.
Smith went on to say the Storm’s success was built on hard work and effort and that the drinking culture comments have been taken out of context.
He is not the first sportsperson to say their words have been beaten up to suit a media agenda and won’t be the last.
And it’s great that he is comfortable in his own skin to be a character – rugby league and sport in general needs more of them.
But he left himself open to a deluge of criticism with what he said and by swearing profusely in the interview.
Clearly the YKTR podcast is an open forum where players can be themselves in a relaxed setting. When talking to a former league player like Isaac John, they can let their guard down much more than when speaking to the mainstream media.
These chats are not designed for a kids’ audience.
However all it takes is for someone at the Storm or one of their sponsors to be contacted by a media outlet for them to say it’s not a good look and it’s more fuel to the bonfire of profanities that Smith created.
Rodski said Smith would begin his pre-season preparation next Tuesday.
The unofficial punishment for Smith will be whatever Craig Bellamy can dish out without breaking any UN human rights treaties by increasing his specific pre-season training program at the Storm, which are already universally known for being the toughest in the NRL.
With co-captain Dale Finucane switching to the Sharks, there is a vacancy at lock which Smith would be a near certainty to fill next season as the Storm have made it clear they think Maroons representative Harry Grant is their long-term hooker.
It’s unlikely but if the situation becomes untenable over the off-season slog and the Storm opt to show Smith the door, the Roosters have a 2022 roster spot open like all clubs at this time of year.
They would be unlikely to have the salary cap space to accommodate Smith as it stands, but they would quickly go about shedding players to get him in the Tricolours sooner rather than later.
With the way the inadequate NRL contract system is set up, players can sign a year ahead of schedule to play elsewhere, which encourages underhanded ploys where agents engineer an early exit from their existing club to take up more lucrative rival offers.
Wests Tigers fans will never forgive Josh Aloiai and Ryan Matterson for these tactics the past couple of seasons.
David Klemmer (Canterbury to Newcastle) and Blake Green (Manly to the Warriors and then to the Knights) are other examples of stars making acrimonious exits ahead of schedule.
Not that you can trust the teams either – they’ll look to offload players soon after the ink dries on a contract if a better offer comes along.
Whatever fate awaits Smith when he fronts up for pre-season training, he should wear a mask – not for any other reason than to protect himself from the spittle that will fly from Bellamy when he unleashes one of his trademark sprays.