Smith at defensive best, Storm lose Hughes to injury
Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy wouldn't swap skipper Cameron Smith for any other NRL hooker and the team will have to lean heavily on the 400-gamer in the weeks to come.
Storm half-back Jahrome Hughes will miss the next two to three weeks after breaking his hand in the club's 22-8 win over South Sydney Rabbitohs on Friday night. Hughes played out the game before the injury was discovered post-match and was scheduled to undergo surgery on Saturday.
Smith was at his defensive best during Friday night's win, saving two tries with some vital tackles, while he was only involved in two of their tries.
Last week NRL great Peter Sterling said Canberra star Josh Hodgson had passed Smith as the game's elite hooker and while it's a close race, Bellamy said he felt the call was rich praise for Hodgson but a little too soon.
"I didn't think Peter Sterling's comments were criticising Cameron, I think they were a wrap for Josh Hodgson and he is a great player," Bellamy said post-game on Friday.
"I wouldn't swap Cameron Smith for anyone over the 18-19 years he has played and I still wouldn't swap him for anyone, any other dummy half in the competition."
Hughes will leave a hole in the side although proven half-back Ryley Jacks, or emerging playmaker Cooper Johns are both capable of taking over the spot. Utility back Nicho Hynes could also be considered but would be an outside candidate.
The Storm also said winger Josh Addo-Carr was not expected to miss any time despite needing an injection at half-time after taking a painful rib injury in the first half.
"He did well to finish off that first half, it was a pretty tough performance from Joshie," Bellamy said.
Storm utility Tom Eisenhuth (back injury) should also be putting his hand up for selection for the clash with Newcastle Knights at Central Coast Stadium this coming Saturday.
The Storm should also have prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona available after he served a one-game suspension on Friday night. Mobile forward Brandon Smith performed well in his place.
Bellamy admits he will have some thinking to do about whether to retain Smith as a starter or bring Asofa-Solomona back.
"We will have a look at the game and make some sort of decision," Bellamy said.
"I thought our bench did a good job tonight. Christian Welch was steady for us. Tino [Fa'asuamaleaui] and Max [King] came off the bench and made a difference for us, with all due respect, I didn't think they did that last week.
"It will be interesting when we sit down and have a chat about it."
Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.