‘Genuine title contenders’: Titans close in on Storm star
The Gold Coast Titans are in the box seat to sign Kiwi Test star Brandon Smith.
The Courier-Mail can reveal the Gold Coast appears Smith's most likely home from 2022 if the Titans can strike a deal with Melbourne.
Smith, 24, is contracted to the Storm until the end of the 2022 NRL season, but has been granted permission to explore opportunities elsewhere given his desire to be a starting hooker.
Maroons sensation Harry Grant is set to start the season in Melbourne's No. 9 jersey after returning to the Storm from Wests Tigers.
The Titans have had their eye on Smith for close to a year, long before he hit the open market, and have been working behind the scenes to bring him north.
Gold Coast recruitment chief Ezra Howe is heavily involved in the Kiwis representative program.
Kayo is your ticket to the best sport streaming Live & On-Demand. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
The Titans hoped to have Smith on board for the 2021 NRL season, but rejected Melbourne's proposal to trade Queensland Origin stars Tino Fa'asuamaleaui or Moeaki Fotuaika in return.
While he has received strong interest from at least one Sydney club, Smith's desire is to live on the Gold Coast and he will likely end up at the Titans.
Melbourne is renowned for playing hardball in the release of contracted players, as evidenced by NSW Origin winger Josh Addo-Carr's failed return to Sydney this year.
The Storm will not let Smith go without compensation which remains the final hurdle in the Gold Coast's pursuit of "The Block of Cheese".
Titans coach Justin Holbrook has been building a quality squad since taking the reins of the club last year.
The signings of Fa'asuamaleaui and David Fifita were considered huge coups and Smith will be a blue-chip acquisition for 2022, potentially making the Gold Coast a genuine title contender.
The Titans have struggled for a quality, durable and consistent No. 9 over the past few years.
Former NSW Origin hooker Nathan Peats has left the club and off-contract Mitch Rein will start at dummy-half this year.
The Titans also have Tanah Boyd and Erin Clark as back-up hookers, but a premiership-winning Test player like Smith will take the team to another level.
Nathan Friend, the Titans' foundation hooker and arguably the club's greatest ever No. 9, said Smith would be a huge signing for the Gold Coast.
"I think he is a fantastic player," he said.
"The last few years people have realised the importance of a hooker that can get through 80 minutes and direct the team around. He could change his body composition a bit to endure 80 minutes and excel.
"It's been evident at the Melbourne Storm how important it is down there. If you can have a decent hooker at any club you will see they go okay.
"Brandon Smith is one of the best utilities you can find. He is a running hooker but there's no doubt he can direct traffic around him, stick to a plan and take opportunities when they present.
"He has got where he has because of determination and his will to win. He is not the most skilful, but he would be one of the toughest guys you'd see out there. He gives 100 per cent.
"The Titans would be silly not to chase him."
Originally published as 'Genuine title contenders': Titans close in on Storm star