Melbourne great Cameron Smith has officially announced his retirement from the NRL, with the 37-year-old calling time on his illustrious career after 19 years and 433 games.
The void he leaves behind is irreplaceable, however there is plenty of optimism and excitement for the season ahead given the business model in place at AAMI Park.
Smith, along with the likes of Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, joined Melbourne through their impressive recruiting regimes and built a dynasty that stands as an historic era for the men in purple.
While the ‘big three’ have all officially called time on their tenures with the Storm, there looks to be plenty of candidates set to follow in their footsteps and lead this next generation of talent.
Craig Bellamy has been the mastermind behind the Storm’s dominance of the 21st century, and while his future at the club isn’t guaranteed, he will have at least 12 months to plant seeds and have a major impact in where the club moves going forward.
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At his disposal is a reigning premiership side, and while the Storm do come off the back of their victorious 2020 campaign, there will be a new feeling around the changerooms from Round 1.
A new era will still be dictated by the players leading the pack this year. While many have been retained following their recent successes, there is an aura of the unknown for this year’s side.
Touted as Smith’s obvious successor is Harry Grant, who returns to the club after a season-long loan at Wests Tigers where he collected the Dally M Rookie of the Year award.
Grant’s workrate and leadership from his short run in the NRL mirrors all the key attributes a young Smith showed shortly after his venture south from the Norths Devils.
Should we look further into replacing the ‘big three’, there are answers as obvious as Grant’s new reigns as hooker, with Ryan Papenhuyzen and Cameron Munster set to stand in place of Slater and Cronk respectively.
While yes, Munster has held down his halves role for some time now, he continues to make a stand as one of the league's best playmakers and still remains to be lengths behind Cronk.
Papenhuyzen is a lot fresher in his time in the league, but has already had a glamorous impact on the Storm’s riches.
The Clive Churchill medallist has rapidly become a fan favourite in the purple, a factor that fueled Slater’s electrifying game style and flare.
Collectively, this new trio of Storm stars in conjunction with the underrated depths of role players will see Melbourne remain in the hunt for the premiership in years to come. With or without Craig Bellamy at the helm.