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'I had a little cry': Smith broke down at early fracture fear

While his teammates were running in tries for fun two weeks ago, Brandon Smith was in tears after being told a third facial fracture in 18 months had ended his season early.

Smith's 17-minute cameo against Manly featured two try assists in week one of the finals before a heavy head clash with Josh Aloiai brought a premature end to his evening in the 40-12 trouncing.

Given he couldn't feel a thing in the right side of his face afterwards, Melbourne's medical staff delivered a similar verdict on his career-best 2021 campaign.

Smith broke down in the Sunshine Coast Stadium dressing sheds having already suffered similar fractures in February and August last year, requiring two titanium plates to be inserted into the other side of his face.

Scans after full-time eventually cleared his badly swollen face of a fracture, with Smith to take up his usual starting hooker role in Saturday's preliminary final showdown against Penrith at Suncorp Stadium.

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"I had a little cry in the change rooms for a bit because they'd told me it was broken," Smith said on Sunday.

"When it happened it hurt but I didn't think I had broken it.

"But the physios asked me what the symptoms were and I just said my face is numb.

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"They thought that was a clear sign of a fracture. Everything was sweet when they were pushing it, but if it was fractured and I went back out there and did damage I could've done serious damage.

"It wasn't good signs but I couldn't go out there [on the sidelines], moping around and feeling sorry for myself, the team wouldn't have wanted that.

"I was just trying to get up for the boys. It's not like it's a big loss. The Kiwi international hooker comes off and the Queensland Maroons hooker [Harry Grant] goes on. It's not that bad."

A week's added recovery proved perfect timing for the New Zealand No.9, who took particular delight in watching the "pretty funny" war of words between Ivan Cleary and Wayne Bennett over defenders pressuring opposition kickers.

Penrith's Nathan Cleary will be a marked man once more in the grand final qualifier given Christian Welch especially has thrived on chasing the Panthers halfback into rushed efforts.

Smith himself has flourished in a largely unheralded role with the premiers, as a burgeoning leader as the season has progressed.

The 25-year-old's practical jokes and laidback nature have long belied his competitive streak, with Smith often credited with helping drive Melbourne's training standards of late.

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Even if he is as surprised as anyone at the development.

"For some reason people actually listen to me whereas a couple of years ago they'd probably just tell me to shut up if I started talking in a meeting," he said.

"I try to be an influence everywhere, whether it's on the training paddock or around the resort. I've always got plenty of energy and I'm trying to get the boys up.

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"The other day we had a really tough training session but every time they explained the drills and said it was a tough session I'd be saying 'I love it' and the boys would get around it.

"It's been a big change from last year to this year and my role in the team as a leader. I'm loving it, to be fair."

Melbourne have received another boost leading into the grand final rematch against Penrith with star winger Josh Addo-Carr declaring himself a certain starter after overcoming his hamstring problem.