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Storm hooker Brandon Smith.

The famous Storm strangle looms large at first, before a combination of new rules and running replacements points to a freewheeling Melbourne outfit in the post-Cameron Smith era.

Smith's likeness will be cast in bronze alongside fellow rolled gold legend Billy Slater on Wednesday at AAMI Park, where the former's uncertain future is set to dominate proceedings once more.

On Thursday Melbourne play their first home game in front of a crowd since September 2019, starting a campaign without Cam for the first time in almost two decades.

Nuggety hooker Brandon Smith takes over the No.9 jersey against South Sydney with Harry Grant (knee) sidelined for the first few weeks.

The combination of a round one night game, Smith at the ruck and Melbourne's middles pipping South Sydney's for size has a compact game plan tipped for the premiers.

But where Cameron Smith's strengths lie in management, manipulation and guiding a team from pre-game to premierships, Grant's stunning 2020 emergence on loan at the Tigers was largely based on a dynamic running game.

NRL.com stats reveal Grant and Brandon Smith (when not playing as a middle forward) were among the two most prolific dummy-half running hookers of 2020.

Only cardinal and myrtle opposite Damien Cook (8.1 dummy half runs a game), and Tigers pair Jacob Liddle and Billy Walters (7.5 runs per game), sniped around the ruck more than Smith's successors at Melbourne.

Both chanced their hand from dummy-half far more often than their champion predecessor.

The emergence of Cameron Munster as an attacking focal point after Cooper Cronk's exit already saw the Storm's structure loosened somewhat, last year's six-again rules taking that a step a further.

Both Munster and budding superstar fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen are tipping further freewheeling in 2021 with repeat sets brought in for 10-metre infringements and the ball tipped to be in play more often.

"I think the tactical side of it will be a bit different," Papenhuyzen says.

"Smithy could slow the game down and play at his own pace. Now we've got two pretty quick, dynamic hookers who can get out, away from all that ruckus and we've just got to play off them.

"That's all that really needs adjusting, the rest of it's pretty similar to last year.

"Especially with the rule changes I think it's pretty exciting that these guys get their opportunity and can showcase what they're good at."

Cam Smith's uncanny knack for finding touch or a lonely corner off the boot have became a hallmark of his ability to slow a game down over the years.

The respective turn of speed from Grant and Brandon Smith, however, has caught Munster unaware at training more than once this summer, the gun five-eighth drawing parallels between the pair and looming Rabbitohs opponent Cook.

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"Harry and Brandon are runners and they'll get out of dummy-half like Damien Cook, and hopefully we can emulate some of the stuff he does in our own game," Munster tells NRL.com.

"At training every now and then I've missed the jump on those two.

"Obviously I'm not as fast as Ryan Papenhuyzen so every now and then I've got to try and time my run really well because Brandon and Harry are really quick out of dummy-half.

"Sometimes they leave you for dead so that's something I've really had to adapt to this year."

For his part Cook says the Storm don't lose a hell of a lot thanks to their remarkable succession planning around Smith's exit.

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The Rabbitohs rake remains circumspect, though, about the new rules, which he debated as a member of the NRL innovations committee in November, given the impact he initially saw from six-agains on his own game last year.

Tipped to take flight off the back of repeat sets, Cook found opposition defences tightened up on him in the first two months, before he and South Sydney's forwards found a groove where he didn't overplay his hand.

Rule changes aside, Cook sees Melbourne's age-old dynamic holding Smith's successors in good stead as the Rabbitohs visit the Victorian capital for the 17th time, still chasing their first win on Storm turf.

"What we've noticed with the Storm is they've got a good system down there," Cook says.

"Whoever steps into that role, steps into that same game plan.

"We've seen players go down there, slip right in and know their role. So I'm not too sure how Melbourne are going to be different.

"The Smiths at hooker are different players, but Brandon's not coming off the bench as a middle anymore as well.

"It'll be interesting to see how he goes this weekend. We're going to have to watch his runs out of dummy-half and he brings a lot of energy in their defence as well."

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