Brandon Smith is willing to leave the Storm to secure a full-time No.9 jumper in part because of the battering his body has taken – including two facial fractures in one season – as a bullocking, but undersized lock.
Smith spoke for the first time on Friday since Melbourne gave him permission to explore his options elsewhere for 2022, with an early release possible if a player swap lands the Storm a suitable replacement.
A host of clubs including the Gold Coast, Canterbury, Brisbane and Wests Tigers have flagged interest in the Kiwi international as a hooker.
But as yet no significant headway has been made given Melbourne's push for a top-tier replacement, with the Titans swiftly rebutting suggestions of Tino Fa'asuamaleaui returning to the Storm in Smith's place.
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Smith is expected to take up a lock role again in 2021 with Dally M hooker of the year Harry Grant returning to the club and veteran Cameron Smith still considered unlikely to be in purple despite ongoing conjecture over his future.
Smith said he and Grant are still duelling for the starting hooker throughout pre-season, but said playing at his regular No.9 weight – 92-93 kilos – left him feeling outgunned when shifting to lock.
"I want to play No.9," Smith said.
"I find myself becoming accustomed to the 13 jersey, which isn't a bad thing. The versatility is great. But that's not what I want to play.
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"I don't think that's exactly what I'd be happy playing. If I can't be a nine at this club I'd love to play No.9 elsewhere. But that's just my thought process.
"I want to be a No.9 and I want to represent my country at No.9. I want to do great things in the game like Cameron Smith has done in the hooker spot.
"Adjusting to being in the 13 role as well ... my body, I can't be a skinny 13 and not protect myself. I've got to put on weight to play 13. That's the sort of things that hinders my ability to be a nine.
"That's ok with me while Cameron Smith's there because he deserves that nine spot. He's the greatest No.9 and still is the best No.9 to this day. But I think that this is the greatest opportunity to fight for that No.9 spot.
"I got down to 93 [kilos] playing 13 a couple of seasons ago and it wasn't great. I felt fast but I felt like I was getting thrown around a bit more than usual. I usually play around 97-98 kilos.
"But if I was to be a nine for instance I'd be about 92 kilos. That's a big difference in weight, I'm playing nine against Parramatta at [98 kilos], which is not ideal but you make do."
Smith played through a facial fracture to claim man-of-the-match honours in last year's All Stars clash, before suffering a badly broken jaw against Parramatta when Marata Niukore hit him high defending his own line.
On his return from that injury Smith spoke of being roughed up by Tigers forwards and despite his bull-in-a-china-shop approach, ranks as one of the game's smaller middle forwards when taking on that role.
It's understood fears over his longevity as a middle forward have also played a part in Smith's push to play hooker fulltime, though his status as a representative quality No.9 cannot be understated.
Smith conceded that if his namesake Cameron were to make a shock call to return to Melbourne playing duties, both he and Grant would have to reconsider their immediate futures.
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The 24-year-old spent his off-season celebrating Melbourne's grand final win at home in New Zealand, reducing both he and his mum to tears when he gifted her his premiership ring.
Smith said he first raised his potential release with Bellamy from the Shaky Isles, calling the veteran coach while "he was sunbathing on the Gold Coast".
"Stuff like that with Craig, it's not a hard thing to talk to him about," Smith said.
"He's a coach you can have hard conversations with and not worry about what he's going to do. He's never going to yell at you [in that scenario].
"That's just not what Craig's about. It wasn't really a hard conversation, I just said how I felt and he respected my decision.
"But at the same time, his job is to put the best side out that's going to win him a premiership. We didn't see the point in me getting a release this year when that spots still up for grabs.
"He said that he's not just going to give the No.9 jersey to Harry or he's not just going to give it to me. We've both just got to go out there and take it."