Brandon Smith opens up about leaving Melbourne and why he turned down the Dolphins

Brandon Smith has revealed it was his desire to play dummy-half which forced his exit from Melbourne after the Storm had initially tabled an offer for the Kiwi international to remain at the club. 

“Melbourne offered me a contract but they’d just re-signed Harry Grant. So, for me, I didn’t really have an option,” Smith said while appearing on The Bye Round Podcast with James Graham.

The 26-year-old has been at the Storm since 2017, making his debut against Newcastle halfway through the campaign, before going on to establish himself as a key man in their premiership-winning team three years later.  

However, Smith revealed he had grown unhappy with having to play a role off the interchange bench or at lock – he played at dummy-half just six times in 2022 – since the emergence of Grant as the first-choice hooker.

“I wanted to play hooker and that was sort of clouded by the re-signing of Harry,” Smith said.

“It’s tough because that’s probably one of my best friends in the team. We’ve never had a problem with each other…The decision was solely because I wanted to play hooker.”

Due to his versatility Smith hasn’t had a sustained period of time as the club’s first-choice No.9 and he felt like being unable to dedicate himself to a specific position was hurting his career. 

“I wanted to play hooker,” Smith declared.

“I wanted to be training in that position because I’ve barely had any seasons where I’ve actually trained at hooker. I’ve been behind Cameron Smith, so I trained that bench role.

“I’ve barely got any reps in. The only reps I got was after training where I’d do like 20 minutes of passing the ball out of dummy-half and a few scoot drills.

“But I’d never had any training against a side. I sort of got that in 2021 and I feel like I thrived in that position.”

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Following the premiership win in 2020, Cam Smith retired which left his namesake and Grant to battle it out for the No.9 jersey. Yet Grant endured an injury-interrupted campaign where he featured in just 15 games for the Storm.

This allowed Smith to take on the role he’d always wanted to play. He excelled in it to finish with 11 tries and 10 assists from 24 matches, making it by far the most productive campaign of his career to date.

“I just felt like after my 2021 season that was the position I wanted to play,” Smith said. “I enjoyed my footy more in that season.”

The Dolphins entered into negotiations for Smith, with Wayne Bennett viewing him as an ideal option out of the ruck. But the Kiwi was left unimpressed after the vision they used to sell the new franchise to him quickly unraveled.

“When I had the meetings and stuff, they told me all these players that they were going to sign and then pretty much like a week later all the players they told me they were going to sign ended up re-signing with the clubs they were already at,” he said.

Although Smith admitted that joining a club which was still in the process of building itself up from the ground floor didn’t necessarily appeal to him.

“The unknown kind of scared me a little bit,” he said.

“I turned it down sort of and then everyone from Melbourne Storm went there so I was a little bit filthy about that.”

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The decision to leave Melbourne wasn’t one taken lightly by Smith, with his close relationship with Craig Bellamy making it even more difficult. He credited the head coach for sticking by him during his controversial off-season last year.

“He was rock solid,” Smith said.

“I think he knows there’s times when people are going to respond to being yelled at and when people need a helping hand. At that time, me, Cam [ Munster] and Chris [Lewis] needed a helping hand.

“We were copping enough sprays from everyone externally. Internally, we were copping a spray from some of the big fellas at the Storm as well.

“I remember he stood up and just told them to shut up, but he didn’t tell them to shut up.

“He said ‘I don’t really care what these guys have got to say, just make sure you go home and your families are okay with what you’ve done, you’re happy with what you’ve done and you come back a better man’…so that speaks volumes of him.”

However, with his mind made up that his path was blocked at the Storm to play in his preferred position and with the Dolphins disappointing him with their sales pitch, he eventually signed with the Sydney Roosters after a drawn-out process.

“I’m good friends with Jared [Waerea-Hargreaves] and I was in Sydney at the time, so he asked me to come to the golf course,” Smith said of the now infamous meeting where he was swayed towards joining the glamour club.

“I realised that all the old Roosters boys started rocking up and I was like, ‘This is a stitch up!’ 

“Boyd Cordner was behind us, then we were playing with Jake Friend and Mitch Aubusson.

“Jeez Mitch was good, too. I reckon they were letting me win. I did this chip and the green was up this hill and I was down below.

“I chipped it and I’ve come up and Jake Friend was celebrating saying ‘Mate, you got it in, you got it in!’

“I look back now and that bastard probably just put it in the hole and went ‘What a shot, Smithy!'” 

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