Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith says his squad is stronger and better prepared than it’s been in a long time heading into an NRL season.
The lack of Australian Test commitments post-season meant that Smith, as well as Cooper Cronk and the injured Billy Slater, were able to spend the entire pre-season training with the youngsters in their squad.
He said they usually had to play catch-up to get the team playing as they’d like.
“Our young guys haven’t really had this opportunity for a long time to train alongside us three,” Smith said.
“In the past five years it’s almost like I’ve had to re-introduce myself to the squad when I get back and they’ve had to adjust to my style of play.
“Particularly in the positions we play in; we’re all vital parts of the footy side and pretty important in the way we play out attack so I think it’s been great for them.”
Written off by many before the 2015 season with their trio of stars aged over 30, Smith said their charge into the preliminary finals where they were beaten by champions the Cowboys had quietened the chatter.
“I haven’t seen as much talk as last year saying that our time was over,” the Test rake said.
“As far we we’re concerned we’ve still got great football left in our careers.
“And I believe our squad is stronger than last year as we’ve got a lot more depth, particularly in the forward pack.
“Overall we’re a better football side so it’s a matter of transferring that from the training paddock to the field.”
Off the field the club are trying to keep Cronk and coach Craig Bellamy on their books beyond this season with Bellamy expected to make a call on his future in the coming days.
Smith said he didn’t have a read on what the enigmatic Cronk would choose to do, with the Test No.7 linked to a move to Sydney.
Meanwhile, frustrated fullback Slater is still hopeful of playing in Melbourne’s NRL opener against St George Illawarra on Monday March 7 as his shoulder slowly recovers.
Slater has started contact work but is still no certainty despite being sidelined for surgery since last June.