Queensland Origin star Harry Grant is officially back in Storm colours and will resume a running battle with teammate Brandon Smith to succeed his namesake and club icon Cameron.
Grant took part in his first Melbourne training session on Monday after his loan deal with Wests Tigers culminated in Dally M rookie of the year and representative honours, heralding the 22-year-old as Smith's No.9 replacement.
Brandon Smith in turn has been granted permission to pursue a starting hooker role elsewhere for 2022, with the Kiwi Test rake wanting to play his preferred position after playing back-up to the Storm skipper for several seasons.
Brandon returned from holidays in New Zealand to be on deck at Monday's training alongside Origin forwards Christian Welch and Dale Finucane.
Cameron Smith, however, is still yet to hold talks with the Storm about the upcoming season.
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Given Smith's contract expired in November the club has prepared for life without the champion hooker for some time, grooming Grant and Brandon Smith accordingly.
Smith's ability to play as a middle forward points to Grant assuming the hooking duties, though the returning rake believes his Storm teammates will be in the Kiwi's ear about staying put at the premiers.
"It will be up to the coaches. Competition is good for the squad and makes everyone train a bit harder and perform better," Grant said on Monday.
"Me and Brandon have a pretty good relationship, it's up to Craig [Bellamy]. Let's see how we go.
"I think most of the boys will be [telling him to stay] but it's up to him and his family."
Grant said that regardless of Cameron Smith's plans for the coming season, he will be at Melbourne for at least the next two years.
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His Storm contract also contains a mutual option for 2023.
After lighting up both last year's NRL and the State of Origin arena Grant looms as a key pillar in Melbourne's premiership defence.
His formative years at the Storm before linking with the Tigers should hold him in good stead in a crack playmaking spine featuring Ryan Papenhuyzen, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes, though Grant anticipates a pre-season learning curve given Melbourne's successful adaption to the six-again rule last year.
"It was pretty special watching the boys win the comp, especially with all they have been through in being away from Victoria and based on the Sunshine Coast. It's credit to the whole squad," Grant said.
"I wasn't really a part of it so I'm looking forward to building towards it throughout this season.
"I've had a few years beforehand to get the basics down pat.
"But I'm sure they would've changed a fair few things in the style of play and the way they played last season.
"So I guess I'll catch up on those and that'll come in the pre-season with all the training and meetings."
Melbourne were one of several clubs returning to training for the first time in 2021 on Monday, with the club keeping a close eye on the COVID situations in both Victoria and NSW after last year's forced relocation to the Sunshine Coast.
The Warriors also kicked off their pre-season camp in Tamworth on Monday, training as a full squad together under new coach Nathan Brown for the first time.
Manly were also back on deck at their Narrabeen headquarters with players granted exemptions from the Northern Beaches lockdown to travel to and from training.
CEO Stephen Humphries indicated that several COVID-19 protocols have been re-introduced to the club's training in consultation with the NRL.
"Each and every player and staff member has undertaken a COVID test in recent days and received a negative result," Humphries said.
"Anyone with even the slightest of symptoms will stay away from training in isolation until a further negative COVID test is returned.
"Everyone will be temperature checked on arrival to training and the highest level of personal and facilities hygiene will be maintained at all times."