Storm unaffected by Smith uncertainty
All of rugby league is asking, 'Will he stay or will he go?' but the continued speculation regarding the future playing career of Cameron Smith is not affecting the Storm's preparation for season 2014.
That's the assurance of good friend and Melbourne prop forward Bryan Norrie who is desperate to see his captain stay at the Storm rather than head north to Brisbane but is none the wiser as to where the Queensland and Kangaroos skipper will be playing in 2015 and beyond.
With Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk both absent through injury and an untried halves pairing in Ben Hampton and Ben Roberts lining up in Sunday's Pre-Season Charity Cup in Brisbane, Smith's influence on his side was never more evident.
With 261 games for Melbourne already Smith would become the first Storm player to reach the 300-game milestone should he remain a one-club man but Norrie says whichever way Smith decides to go, he has the full backing of his teammates.
"He's a good mate of mine but at the end of the day it's his and his family's decision," Norrie said after the Storm's 20-10 loss to the Bulldogs.
"It happens all the time, you've got mates who have opportunities from other places but hopefully he does stay but it's up to him.
"He's got a big decision to make and he'll do it when he's ready. It hasn't affected us at all.
"As a player and a mate you'd hate to see him go but that's footy, that's reality and it happens every year, somebody moves on.
"We'd love him to stay, he's one of the best players in the world and he has such a big influence on our club but we'll just have to wait and see with fingers crossed."
The departure of England international Gareth Widdop to the Dragons and retirement of Brett Finch has opened the way for Ben Hampton to stake a permanent claim on the No.6 jersey with late signing Ben Roberts in line to start at halfback should Cronk be unable to take his place in the side for Round 1.
With the 'big three' all away on World Cup duty until December, Norrie said it gave an opportunity for some of the younger players such as Hampton to have greater input into the club's pre-season preparations.
"Obviously they're key players in key positions so having them away gave a lot of the younger blokes a really good pre-season in those positions to try and work on those combinations," Norrie said.
"It's good to have those boys there but it was also good to give a lot of the younger boys a good run."
One youngster who enhanced his prospects of an NRL debut early in the 2014 season was winger Young Tonumaipea. A member of the Sharks' grand final-winning team in the NSW Cup last year, Tonumaipea came up with a number of important defensive reads and some powerful runs with the football.
With a season-ending knee injury to Matt Duffie and Justin O'Neill unable to complete the Auckland Nines or play in the trial on Sunday, Tonumaipea has surged into the frame for a Round 1 call-up.