Brandon Smith has signed a long-term deal with the Sydney Roosters from 2023 onwards – but there’s already a question mark forming before he has even arrived.
The 25-year-old is one of the game’s great characters and his work on the field is just as good, helping Melbourne to a premiership in 2020.
Smith is capable of playing as a middle-forward and as a hooker, but his desire to be a starting No.9 is the major reason why he left the Storm.
Harry Grant has been given the keys to the kingdom for Melbourne, with the club investing in him as their long-term successor to future Immortal Cameron Smith.
‘The Cheese’ will play out the remainder of this season with the Storm, before heading to Bondi on a lucrative deal that is believed to be around $800,000 per year until the end of 2025.
But after a less-than-stellar performance at hooker against the Cowboys in Round 11, there is now a sense of doubt surrounding his ability to play the position on a permanent basis.
Speaking on NRL 360, former Roosters captain Braith Anasta questioned the decision and questioned whether Smith is the right fit for the Tricolours.
“Brandon Smith at nine, is he the answer? Watching Smith’s game on the weekend, I thought he struggled with his passing game,” he said.
“His decisions when to run the football and when not were just nowhere near where they needed to be.
“I think he is more a lock than a nine which again takes me to next year, where the Roosters have paid $800k for him to be a specialist hooker. I was watching that game on the weekend thinking ‘if I am the Roosters, I am a little bit nervous if this man is the right man for the job’.
“Just looking at his service out of dummy-half, his timing, his passing, his options, does he take the right option at the right time?
“All I am saying is you would be a little bit concerned as a Rooster because they need a genuine nine – a position that is so important in our game at the moment, all the great teams have got a great nine.”
Smith performed well out of dummy-half in 2021 while Grant was in and out of the side, but has predominantly been used as a running forward or off the bench this year.
His greatest asset is his running game and there is no issue with that – Damien Cook is the incumbent NSW and Kangaroos hooker and that is his greatest asset too.
But at the same time, there is merit to what Anasta is saying.
James Tedesco, Luke Keary and Sam Walker are class players and have established themselves as part of the long-term spine at the Roosters – but those men will need good service and it all starts from dummy-half.
If the halves and Tedesco are unable to get crisp service from Smith or whoever is playing the position, it takes away from the opportunity to deliver quality ball out wide to the likes of Joseph Manu and Joseph Suaalii.
Smith will need to work on that area of his game once he arrives at the Roosters, with his opportunities to play hooker at the Storm this year likely to be few and far between.
The other conundrum facing the Roosters is their deep hooking and utility stocks, and how they are planning to fit them all in.
Sam Verrills has had a horror run with injuries, but he is a premiership-winner and is signed with the club until the end of 2024. That alone would indicate that he is seemingly a part of the Roosters’ plans, but his extension was signed prior to Smith’s rich deal.
Connor Watson and Drew Hutchison have shared both the No.14 and hooker position for a lot of this year, despite neither man being recognised 80-minute hookers, and are both signed until the end of 2023.
Lachlan Lam is off-contract at the end of this year and is unlikely to be retained, given the utility and halves stocks at the Roosters. His services may be better utilised elsewhere, with youth still on his side despite boasting plenty of NRL experience.
And while Smith isn’t going to start at lock for the Roosters – local junior and premiership-winner Victor Radley has a mortgage on that jumper – they also aren’t going to pay him that kind of money to come off the bench each week.
So what does this mean for Trent Robinson next year?
It means the Roosters coach is going to have four quality first-graders battling it out for just two spots in his best 17, which could lead to discontent and players seeking an early release.
Watson came back for less money to play under Robinson and is the perfect utility, given his quick footwork and ability to play multiple positions. Hutchison is an honest player that fits the club’s DNA, and can play in the halves and at hooker.
That likely leaves Verrills as the odd-man-out. Despite his run with injuries and contract status, he is a starting No.9 and should be playing there, and plenty of clubs will likely be interested in acquiring his services. His utility value is not as great as Watson or even Hutchison, given he is only able to cover one role.
Robinson will have some huge decisions to make in the next six months regarding his roster and in particular, the hooker and utility positions, given how vital they both are in the modern game.
While the Roosters rarely put a foot wrong at the recruitment table, there are both question marks and conundrums facing the club with the impending arrival of the man known as Cheese.