Storm boys vow to step forward
Two forwards on the verge of Origin selection for Queensland have vowed to take on more responsibility in 2017 in a Melbourne Storm squad that has lost four members of its grand final team from last season.
Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch were both invited to attend the Queensland Emerging Origin camp on the Gold Coast for the first time last weekend with Kaufusi joining the Maroons in camp as 18th man for Game Three last year.
It's a camp designed to build bonds more than on-field combinations and give Queensland's most promising young players an indication of what is expected when they represent their state.
Both Kaufusi and Welch made their NRL debuts for the Storm in the 2015 season and have since gone on to play 38 and 27 games respectively in the top grade.
Kaufusi, Welch, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Dale Finucane have all played less than 50 NRL games apiece yet will be expected to play prominent roles in the Storm campaign this year.
Last year's runners up have lost significant experience with Blake Green, Kevin Proctor, Marika Koroibete and Ben Hampton all moving on to new pastures, leaving a void that Kaufusi acknowledges he and Welch have to help to fill.
"You've got the senior guys and then we've got a really young group and then there's the middle age like me who have been there for a couple of years now," Kaufusi told NRL.com.
"I do actually feel that a bit. We're talking a bit to the younger guys and helping them come through which is awesome."
Despite having two 300-gamers in their squad in Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk and another in Billy Slater should he get through a full season this year, the average age of the Storm squad in 2017 is just 22 years of age.
Welch recalls vividly the first time he walked into the Storm set-up as an 18-year-old starstruck by the legends that were within the club and says he now feels comfortable making his voice heard if he feels as though something needs to be said.
"See something, say something. That's a big thing," Welch said of the famed Melbourne Storm culture.
"Always trying to make our teammates better, that's a big thing at the Storm.
"Everyone is comfortable to speak up and if they see something that can be improved certainly feel comfortable.
"It's not an intimidating culture there but you've certainly got to do your time.
"It's probably the best club to be at and learning from those players. Not only do you see the work they do on the field but also away from it and the way they conduct themselves is second to none.
"You've still got memories of the first time you see Cameron Smith and Cooper walking in the gym when you're an 18-year-old.
"I still get that when we're on away trips and we're playing cards with 'Coops'. Being a young Queenslander who has watched these guys for many years, it's quite a privilege."
Although he said that there has been no direct order from coach Craig Bellamy for the next crop coming through to assert themselves more on the playing group, 22-year-old Welch said the generational change has been noticeable throughout pre-season.
"Over the off-season we've had four of our 17 from the grand final depart and they were some pretty senior players such as Blake Green and Kevin Proctor," Welch said.
"They've certainly been looking for a few of the young guys to not necessarily bring much leadership but bring a lot of energy to training and challenge the senior players and drive those standards."