Different paths align for talented Storm trio
It was ironic that the Melbourne Storm celebrated the grand final-winning deeds of their 2007 team this week.
On Monday, three young players with big futures re-signed with the club and could take the Storm to more premiership success.
Fullback Jahrome Hughes, halfback Brodie Croft (both 22) and hooker Brandon Smith (20) signed two, three and five-year deals respectively.
Upon closer inspection, you'll see how significant these signings are and why it reinforces Melbourne's reputation for nurturing talent.
Brandon Smith hails from Waiheke Island, a small community 30 minutes by ferry from Auckland's CBD. The location is an unlikely NRL rugby league nursery – the island has one rugby club, and a population of less than 10,000 – and Smith moved to Townsville in his early teens to pursue a rugby league career.
The young hooker joined the North Queensland Cowboys development system when he was fourteen, going on to play with their NYC team in 2016. He made his Junior Kiwis debut the same year and played ahead of New Zealand Warriors regular Nathaniel Roache in 2017.
His selection in the New Zealand squad for the Anzac Test this year was surprising given he had yet to play an NRL game. But in a further acknowledgement of Smith's potential, and following an injury to regular rake Issac Luke, Kiwis coach David Kidwell said he saw him as a long-term Test prospect.
"He plays hooker, a position we need to build depth in," said Kidwell. "I know he's held in high regard at Melbourne Storm, so he's a guy we wanted to bring in and give him a bit of a taste of it."
Smith has played three games for the Storm this year. He impressed with his quick service and toughness and is tipped to take over from Cameron Smith when the skipper retires.
Croft and Hughes are also both bright prospects but have had different career paths. Croft is a decorated junior representative, playing for Queensland under-18s and 20s and captaining the Junior Kangaroos this year.
The halfback has already had an impact in a Storm jersey. He kicked the match-winning field goal in the Storm's Round 15 win against the Cowboys and will no doubt get an extended opportunity to fill the departing Cooper Cronk's shoes.
Hughes was born in Wellington and moved to the Gold Coast at 14. He moved through the Titans' youth system but found his best form at North Queensland. Hughes represented the Queensland Residents and was named in the Queensland Cup's team of the year two years in a row.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy is excited at the trio's commitment to the club.
"It's great for us. It's good for those guys too," Bellamy said.
"We've got some wonderful coaches here on the field, and I'm talking about the senior players. With those young guys, that's where they learn most of what they learn. It's a great opportunity for them to further their NRL career.
"All those guys are really talented kids. They all want to work hard, and we think if they hang around long enough, hopefully they'll have some success for them and the team."
Storm football director Frank Ponissi said the trio formed an important part of the club's talent base for future.
"These re-signings are a significant part of our retention strategy. All four players will form an integral part of our playing group for the years to come.
"Brodie, Brandon and Jahrome are exciting young players who showed our fans during the Origin period just what they are capable of.
"They are young men who came to Melbourne in search of an NRL opportunity, and now they comfortably call this city their home.
"They will continue to work closely with our coaches to ensure they reach their full potential in the purple over the years to come."