Smith backs Croft to shine at halfback
Three men have rotated the Melbourne halfback position all year - but Storm skipper Cameron Smith believes Brodie Croft will be handed the No.7 jersey for Friday's first finals game against the Rabbitohs.
Both Croft and Ryley Jacks have had nine shots at halfback during 2018, while utility Jahrome Hughes has played five of his 11 games in the halves.
"Prior to last weekend [loss to Panthers], Croft played two games in a row and he played quite well when he got back in the side," Smith said.
"So I think he has the front-running for that position.
"The hardest thing is that they are three totally different players; three styles of footy. So we try to fit them in there with what's needed each week."
The Croft kicking game might be needed to help counter what South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds can do with the boot in attack and defence.
Croft has played the majority of the season with Easts Tigers in Intrust Super Cup. They play an elimination final against the Ipswich Jets in Brisbane on Saturday.
"The first grade team will take priority there," Smith said. "As much as we want our reserve grade team to win, what is needed for the Storm on Friday will take priority."
The departure of Cooper Cronk after 13 finals series as Storm's No.7 has thrown a few curve balls for Storm.
But Smith insists there is no desire to show the rugby league world they can win a grand final without Cronk.
"It has nothing to do with winning a premiership without Cooper," he said.
"This year has had no mindset or thought process about proving anything, or winning things without Coops. It's just been about doing our best with the squad we've got.
"It has been a little bit of a different year for us with the make-up of our squad.
"We've had plenty of rotation through that No.7 jersey. I won't say that was inevitable but it was always on the cards with the inexperience we have at that position at our club.
"[Coach] Craig [Bellamy] said he might rotate that position and he has," Smith said.
"We see it as an opportunity to defend a title, which no team has done for a long, long time.
"So it's certainly in the back of our minds but we're not going into a match using that as motivation. But it is there and we are aware of it."
Motivation might also come partly through the eternal questions over Storm's ruck domination. The last time they played South Sydney was a 30-20 loss at ANZ Stadium in round 21. Sam Burgess was quite vocal about it that day.
"That's a bit strange because when we did our review we got in trouble for not slowing the play-the-ball down enough," Smith said. "I thought they played the ball extremely fast against us.
"If people are raising the whole wrestle thing, it's not surprising. It comes up every year, particularly this time of year.
"Seriously, every team is doing it and knowing Seibs [coach Anthony Seibold] I'm sure he's taken a few defensive programs and strategies from Melbourne up to the Rabbits," Smith said.
"We are just going to defend like we do every other game.
"We haven't been contacted by the referees or the NRL all year with any issues about the way we defend."
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