While Cameron Smith says he is still pondering his playing future, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy admits he was initially “blind” to the true difficulty of replacing his long-time leader.
With three weeks to go until NRL round one, 37-year-old Smith hasn’t ruled out playing on.
He told a lunch function in Queensland on Friday he remained undecided – the first time he’s spoken publicly about his future since December.
“I don’t know … I still have a big decision to make,” Smith said.
Bellamy spoke to Smith on Friday morning and at the announcement of the Storm’s new co-captains – with Dale Finucane and Jesse Bromwich sharing the leadership in the 2021 season – also said the door was still ajar to Smith playing on.
Set up with his family on the Gold Coast, Melbourne aren’t expecting Smith to return, while Brisbane appear the front-runners if he chooses to play on after Gold Coast bowed out.
“It’s looking more and more unlikely that he’s going to play but I don’t know that so we’re just trying to prepare for this season with the players we’ve got,” Bellamy said.
Having had Smith by his side for the past 18 seasons, Bellamy felt a little lost at the start of the 2021 pre-season.
Though he has his new leaders nailed down, Bellamy said there was a lot more to replacing Smith after 430 games as the Storm look to back up their 2020 premiership.
“I don’t think people realise just how much we’re going to miss Cameron,” Bellamy said.
“People think of him as the best dummy half there’s ever been so we’re going to miss him there, but then, he’s our goal kicker, our captain – there’s so many things you don’t really realise what he does and how well he does them that we’ve got to make up for.
“Even I was a little bit blind to that at the start of the pre-season.”
Harry Grant and Brandon Smith are tussling to wear Smith’s No.9 jersey, which is another adjustment for Bellamy during the pre-season.
Halves Jahrome Hughes or Cameron Munster are likely to take on the goal-kicking duties.
“Just having Harry and Brandon and how they fitted into the team and when the halves wanted the ball and the ruck and whatever,” Bellamy said.
“Cameron has been such a great player, captain, great goal-kicker for so long that we have to work hard to make up for it this year.”