Golden opportunity for Storm's next Smith
Twelve months is an eternity in footy.
This time last year, Brandon Smith was an up-and-coming hooker for the Cowboys who captured the interest of the rugby league world with three line breaks in the Junior Kiwis' 34-20 loss to the Junior Kangaroos at Pirtek Stadium.
Now he's ready to don the black and white jersey again, but this time there are no age restrictions and the stage is just a little bit bigger with the youngster a shock inclusion in David Kidwell's side for the Anzac Test in Canberra.
Smith – who is yet to make his NRL debut since joining the Storm – is part of New Zealand's 20-man squad for the one-off clash, with his selection seen as a pathway to his development as a future mainstay in the Kiwis system.
Smith was a standout for the North Queensland Cowboys in the Holden Cup last year, finishing 2016 with 18 tries and 21 try assists to go with a whopping 126 tackle breaks from 24 appearances.
To illustrate his ability, Smith was the starting hooker in the NYC Team of the Year, pushing Sharks rookie Jayden Brailey to the bench.
The 20-year-old has been a standout for the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Intrust Super Cup and has made the No.9 role his own in recent weeks.
Kiwis skipper Jesse Bromwich has seen the nuggety hooker develop at the Storm for the past six months under the guidance of Cameron Smith and believes he will add more strings to his bow under the tutelage of New Zealand rake Issac Luke.
"They play similar so he can definitely come in and learn a few things off Issac," Bromwich told NRL.com following the Storm's 34-22 win over the Dragons on Sunday.
"I don't think he's had the chance to work too closely with Issac before, but he's spent plenty of time with 'Smithy' so he's had one of the best of all time to learn off.
"He's coming along really well. He trains really hard and he's a fiery little bugger. He's always trying to be aggressive at training so this week will be a really good learning curve for Brandon to see how some of the boys operate at an international standard."
Storm coach Craig Bellamy is clearly a fan of Smith and is confident he is the heir apparent to his namesake at the Storm despite possessing different traits with and without the ball.
"He's putting a lot of pressure on the other bloke," Bellamy joked.
"He's a great kid and obviously whenever it is that Cameron decided to call it a day, we'd like to think Brandon will be our next one (hooker). He's a different player to Cameron, but I think that's a really good thing because before he finishes, he'll be able to teach Brandon a lot.
"The other good thing about Brandon is that he can play in the back row a bit as well – he's a bit of a Ryan Hinchcliffe player. We'd like to think he'll play a fair bit of first grade before Cameron retires – as a back-rower – because he's an aggressive little thing.
"The Kiwis have seen that and they've taken him into camp to try to get used to that atmosphere. He's a player we want to hang on to and we've got him picked out as his successor."