Storm reps leave bitterness behind

IT’S been the year from hell, but Kangaroos hooker Cameron Smith is hoping victory in this month’s Four Nations will help ease the pain of Melbourne’s wasted season.<br><br>The Storm were stripped of two premierships and two minor premierships for massive salary cap breaches in April and forced to play for no competition points in 2010 – ultimately missing the NRL finals for the first time since 2002 as a result. <br><br>Although he came to terms with what happened some months ago, Smith said he had been counting the days to Sunday’s opening game against Papua New Guinea since Melbourne’s season came to a premature end seven weeks ago.<br><br>“I’ve been really looking forward to getting into camp here and hopefully playing some good footy for Australia and trying to get that trophy,” he said. “I think it will [ease the pain] a bit.<br><br>“I mean, personally I’ve put what happened to us behind me now. <br><br>“Our season finished six or seven weeks ago now so it’s been a fair while and we knew in April when our season was going to be over. <br><br>“We had a long time to prepare for the end and I’ve done that and moved on. But I can’t wait to get into this first match.”<br><br>However, Smith’s Melbourne and Australian team-mate Cooper Cronk is adamant that no amount of success in the upcoming tournament will make amends for 2010.<br><br>“I don’t know if it makes it any better,” he said. “What happened to us this year honestly sucked and not playing in September for the first time in a lot of our careers was a sore point. <br><br>“But the thing is you can either jump up and down about it or you can carry on with the job you’ve got to do.”<br><br>If there was one positive to come from Melbourne’s fall this season, Cronk said, it was the opportunity to play out the year purely for the love of the game.<br><br>While they didn’t feature in the finals, Melbourne produced some dazzling performances in 2010 with Cronk rewarded for his efforts by being called in to replace the injured Johnathan Thurston as Australia’s first-choice halfback.<br><br>“The reason you play football is to win competitions and to have that taken away from you is hard, but what you discover is the reason why you played football as a kid and played with all your mates in the paddock – the pure enjoyment of the game,” he said. <br><br>“The powers that be made a decision but at the end of the day we still won as many games this year as we did in a premiership season last year. <br><br>“What happened to us as a footy club this year wasn’t going to hinder how each of us performed on the footy field. <br><br>“That’s in the past – even though you can’t erase what happened because it hurt a fair bit – but I’m very much focused on this Australian team going forward now. <br><br>Cronk also revealed that Melbourne’s star trio of himself, Smith and fullback Billy Slater could unveil some new tricks in the coming weeks after practising some unique plays during the year – namely a remarkable move against eventual premiers St George Illawarra in Round 4 when the halfback threw a no-look inside pass for Slater to score.<br><br>“There could be a little bit of that,” Cronk laughed. “We didn’t throw the year away but we realised we could test the waters with a few things that might help us perform well in the future.<br><br>“We did some hard work and a bit more studying of the game so when it shows up again I’m not sure but hopefully that might help us from time to time.”<br><br>The Kangaroos will be looking to fine-tune their attack against PNG on Sunday ahead of the big clashes with England and New Zealand, but Smith said the danger at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night was facing an entire squad of unknowns.<br><br>“It’s hard to prepare for what they’re going to throw at us because there are a lot of unknown players there… but one thing you can bet your bottom dollar on is that it will be pretty tough early on,” he said. <br><br>“I remember when we played them in the World Cup in Townsville in 2008, they came out all guns firing and they weren’t going to walk off and leave any question marks. <br><br>“They’re very passionate about the game and their country. They give their all, so it will be very tough. <br><br>“There are a few guys in our side, too, that haven’t played for a while so it’s all about preparing well in the lead-up.<br><br>“But as I said, I’ve been looking forward to this game for a while now so I just can’t wait to get out there.”<br><br>