Thursday night’s NRL clash between Melbourne and Sydney Roosters will see the Storm without Cameron Smith, but Billy Slater warns that the legendary hooker’s replacement presents an equally tough challenge for the Tricolours.
Speaking on Wide World of Sports’ Billy’s Breakdown, Slater warned the Roosters of the dangerous threat that Kiwi Brandon Smith poses while the Storm captain is still battling a shoulder injury setback.
“Cameron Smith, he’s out of the game – very rarely misses a clash for the Melbourne Storm – but Brandon Smith takes up that No.9 jersey and he’s been waiting in the wings for a long time,” Slater said.
“Cameron is certainly going to be missed.
“He’s regarded as the world’s best player and arguably the best player to ever play our game.”
Slater explained in detail how the Storm will have to alter their game plan against the Roosters because of the absence of the elder Smith.
“What makes Cameron so great is he makes all the players around him play better,” he said.
“You just see the detail around his position. He gets out and he puts the ball right on the spot. His decision-making is first class, and he just makes his forwards play a lot better and gives them opportunities to score tries, make metres and play the ball fast.
“He’s got a great kicking game. He kicks into the corners and wins the field position battle and then that gives the opportunity for [Ryan] Papenhuyzen and [Jahrome] Hughes to take advantage and play well down that end of the field.
“Cameron Smith is a great player for what he does with the football, but with Brandon it’s what he does when he has the football.”
Slater said the major addition that Brandon Smith brings is speed around the ruck, which can catch opposition defences off-guard.
“I’m sure the Roosters will be certainly aware of Brandon Smith close to the line. If he sees an opportunity, he’ll be taking it,” the former Storm fullback said.
“He’s explosive out of dummy-half, he’s a nuggety sort of player and if he sees an opportunity, he’ll be running.
“He’s scored three tries this year and runs for an average of 100 metres. Things happen around him when he runs the football. He’s got a bit of a passing game in him but that’s certainly a growth area of his game. “
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Slater said Brandon Smith’s strengths mean the Storm will have a lot more run through the middle of the park, and that is something the injury-hit Roosters will have to somehow counteract in their defensive approach.
“I’m sure Trent Robinson’s men will be aware when Brandon Smith picks the ball up and runs direct. So how it’s going to change the way Melbourne play? I think they’re going to come down the middle third a little bit more,” Slater explained.
“Cameron Smith has that nice wide pass on him. He can get the ball away from the ruck and get it to the halves and centres a lot more, but Brandon, he’s a direct player. He’s a runner and I think they’ll be playing up the middle third a lot more than they would than when Cameron Smith was in the side.
“Bit of a battle with no [Cameron] Munster and no [Cameron] Smith, but Brandon brings a different dynamic and I hope Trent Robinson and his team aren’t watching this and I haven’t given them too much of a headstart!”