Storm hooker Harry Grant says Roosters counterpart Brandon Smith was uncharacteristically quiet all week ahead of his former teammate’s return to AAMI Park on Thursday night.
The former AAMI Park crowd favourite copped boos and jeers from Storm fans – none bigger than when he knocked it on out of dummy-half during the second half – in his first visit to AAMI Park as a Rooster as the Tricolours went down to Melbourne.
Grant revealed to newspapers this week that Smith – when still at Melbourne – used to send fired-up photos of man-mountain teammate Nelson Asofa-Solomona to opponents he counted as friends in the week their teams would face off.
The Storm rake kept expecting to see his phone light up this week with a photo of Roosters front-rower Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, but one never arrived.
“He (Smith) didn’t send me any of Jared, I think he was playing hard ball this week,” Grant said after his side’s 28-8 victory.
“He was a bit serious, he wasn’t texting or anything.
“It was good to catch up with him and he’s done a lot for the club and won a grand final here, so he’s always welcome back.”
Grant, who is close to Smith, said he didn’t want to “put any energy” into treating Smith as anything other than just another opponent on Thursday night.
That was obvious in his deadly performance, with the Queensland State of Origin rake steering Storm to their best win of the season to date over a long-time rival.
His highlight of the night was a dazzling 40-20, which gave Storm the perfect field position to set up winger Xavier Coates’ third try that sealed the win.
Grant said he enjoyed the battle with Smith, but added that was never the main focus on Thursday night.
“He (Smith) wasn’t too chirpy, he was pretty quiet but it was still good fun and it’s always fun playing against people you know,” Grant said.
“I think we had a couple of losses there where we were playing some pretty ordinary footy, so to turn that around and to come away with a couple of good wins where we’ve just built each week is really pleasing.
“In saying that, it’s a long season so we’ve got to keep doing it.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy praised Grant’s performance post-game, acknowledging it was the first time this season his No.9 hadn’t played the full 80 minutes.
“I thought he overplayed his hand a couple of times, but I’d rather have him do that than underplay because he’s a very talented player and a very talented dummy-half,” Bellamy said.
“We always look a little bit better when he’s up and running.
“I thought the Cheese (Smith) played pretty good too…(and) I thought Harry was great.
“It’s also the first time we’ve given him a rest this year as we got him off with six or seven minutes to go.”
Fullback Nick Meaney, playmakers Jahrome Hughes and Cameron Munster and Grant regularly combined to cut open the Roosters on Thursday night.
Grant believed that combination would only continue to grow and flourish this year.
“It was really good to have Hughesy back on deck tonight and to build our combination as a spine,” he said.
“We had the first opportunity last year with Paps (injured fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen) and then we had a couple of injuries, which disrupted us a little bit.
“But we did some work in the pre-season, so it’s time to now put it into play. It’s really pleasing how that’s coming on, but we have a fair way to go too.”
The performance of Storm centre Reimis Smith, who went toe to toe with Roosters star Joseph-Aukuso Suaali’i and held his own, was also not lost on Grant.
“Reimis has come into some real good form and I thought he was outstanding tonight,” Grant said.
“He was one on one with Suaalii many times and his defence was really good.
“To be playing the footy he is six rounds in after some major injuries with his pec, and also Will Warbrick coming in after playing only a handful of games means they’re only going to get better as they go.”