MELBOURNE Storm have kicked off negotiations with Australian captain Cameron Smith and are aiming to have him tied to the club for the rest of his career by the start of next season.
The NRL champions’ new owners were asked about the retention of Smith at their introductory media conference on Tuesday, with CEO Mark Evans saying he would leave the issue to the football department.
Football manager Frank Ponissi told Fairfax Media as the premiers headed to Sydney for Saturday’s encounter with Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium that the process had begun.
But Smith has admitted a return to Queensland at the end of next season is a tempting proposition.
“We have had some preliminary talks with Cameron so yes, it’s a process that has started,” said Ponissi.
“So far, it’s been very, very informal but without a shadow of a doubt, we want to retain him.
“Hopefully we will have it done before we start next season so it’s not hanging over our heads.”
Ponissi agreed a decision before the 2014 premiership kicks off was only desirable if Smith agreed to stay. Otherwise, they’d keep talking.
Speaking before the World Club Challenge in February, Smith said: “When I first started playing, I thought if I ever had the chance to play first grade, I want to be a one-club player. But things change, mate.
“ I’ve got a family now with three kids where we’re living away from the rest of our family, which is up in Queensland, and sometimes it’s hard.
“Footy’s been great, the club’s been great, we love Melbourne. But sometimes it’s difficult when you have to travel. It’s hard for the wife to look after three kids. These are issues you face in life.’
The Storm arrived in Sydney for the clash with the Roosters, who are on a five match winning steak, on a slightly delayed mid afternoon flight. They slipped quietly out of the airport with no media on hand to meet them.
After his clash with North Queensland prop James Tamou last Saturday, Rooster Luke O’Donnell is expected to again try to match the aggression of the suspended Jared Waerea Hargreaves.
“Everybody gets excited about playing against their former club but Luke’s an aggressive player and we won’t expect anything less from him on Saturday night,” said coach Craig Bellamy.
“He’s a highly decorated player, he’s played for his country and State of Origin.”
Rooster Anthony Minichiello said at a media conference yesterday: “Over the last couple of weeks we’ve got confidence our of those tough slog games where neither team has played their best.”
The media conference was interrupted by a spontaneous rendition of “Happy Birthday To You”. Minichiello turned 32 on Friday.
Sydney Roosters have conceded just sixteen points in their last five games at Allianz Stadium and last week conceded a try by means other than a kick for the first time in more than a month.
Teams for the match, which kicks off at Allianz Stadium at 7.30pm, are:
SYDNEY: Anthony Minichiello (c); Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck; James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce; Boyd Cordner, Sonny Bill Williams, Mitchell Aubusson, Luke O’Donnell, Jake Friend, Martin Kennedy. Res: Daniel Mortimer, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Aidan Guerra, Lama Tasi.
MELBOURNE: Billy Slater, Sisa Waqa, Maurice Blair, Justin O’Neill, Mahe Fonua; Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hoffman, Kevin Proctor, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Bryan Norrie. Res: Jason Ryles, Tohu Harris, Junior Moors, Lagi Setu, Slade Griffin
Referees: Shayne Hayne/Ashley Klein.