Hampton to benefit from reduced interchanges
Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith has earmarked Ben Hampton as the man to replace Ryan Hinchcliffe as the team's utility player in 2016.
Hinchcliffe has been the Storm's Mr Fix-it over the years, filling in at dummy-half, at lock forward and in the halves. But his move to Huddersfield in the UK Super League has opened the door for someone else to step up.
Hampton has had limited opportunity for the Storm since making his debut in 2013, scoring five tries from 16 appearances. He has mainly filled in at fullback and in the halves during the Origin period, but Smith believes he can play an even bigger role in 2016.
"We've had Ben Hampton train as a utility for most of the pre-season," Smith said.
"He's coming along really nicely. He's had a few opportunities in the past. He's come on and played halves during Origin. He made his debut at fullback and scored a double on debut against the Titans.
"He's been really positive. He's one guy that's really impressed me, and he was probably our most dangerous player with the ball [in the trial game against the Bulldogs]. Even though we didn't have too much of it against Canterbury, he was very dangerous."
The Storm have traditionally struggled during the representative period, with star trio Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk on Queensland duty. They lost four games straight from Rounds 14-18 in 2015, and Smith identified this as an area they needed to rectify.
"I've been really happy with a lot of our young guys this pre-season," the 2012 premiership-winner said.
"It's an area we addressed last year where we need our young fellows to step up and have a bit more accountability in our squad, rather than relying more on the guys who have been there for a while."
The reduction in interchanges from 10 to eight should benefit the Storm, who have traditionally been at the forefront of attacking ingenuity.
While Smith's role as an 80-minute player is unlikely to alter, the Queensland and Australia captain believes the changes will have an effect on the game, making players like Hampton more valuable.
"I'd like to think it's going to open up the game a bit more," the NRL Fantasy supremo said.
"There's no doubt that footy players train harder and longer than they ever have. Fitness levels are pretty good now. But there are a few teams out there that like to carry a lot of big men. Having two less interchanges might affect those teams a little bit. We'll just have to wait and see over the first few rounds.
"I'd like to think that there'd be a bit more opportunity for the little halves and the hookers to play a bit more football. It's what everyone wants to see. It's what the fans have been asking for the last five years. I think this one, more than likely, will have the biggest impact on opening up the game."