Storm halfback Brodie Croft.

"When the game was in the balance, I thought Smith started to play away from Croft which was concerning … Cameron started to look in another direction as the game got to its tipping point."

Premiership-winning hooker Michael Ennis ruthlessly, and accurately, picked apart what would be Brodie Croft's last first-grade outing for three months.

And the young halfback freely admits the Fox Sports pundit nailed it.

Melbourne's skipper defended Croft in the post-match press conference after a gritty 11-10 April loss to Wests Tigers in Auckland, but the final minutes of that tense defeat told a different story.

More and more through the closing stages of that defeat, Smith jumped into first receiver at Croft's expense, the implication being he did not trust the young half to ice the game.

Particularly when a failed 45-metre field goal attempt gave the Tigers a seven-tackle set which they duly converted into the match-winning one-pointer.

Melbourne's grand final halfback had to wait another 12 weeks for a chance to regain Smith's trust, and now another 12 weeks on again, will chase a premiership ring in just his 17th NRL appearance.

"There's certainly more trust there now," Croft told NRL.com.

"I didn't have the greatest start to the year and I was pretty frustrated with my form too.

"Cam's gaining more confidence in me and the ability I have to contribute to this team for sure. That confidence is reciprocated, it feels good to have that from him.

"During the Origin period I got to play and Cam didn't play Origin there, so he was really good for us younger boys that came into the team.

"He really put his confidence and faith in us and it was really to give back some good results, repay that confidence he had in us.

"He often pulls me aside after a training session to give little bits of feedback, both positive and negative.

And Smith's most enduring message?

"I'd say not over-complicating things or pushing a play when it's not on," Croft says.

"I was doing that a bit at the start of the year, overplaying my hand a little bit. Just simplifying things, and pulling off some of those simple plays gives (Smith) more confidence in me when I call the ball."

Like his predecessor and Smith's long time partner in crime Cooper Cronk, Croft prides himself on his efforts without the ball as much as anything else.

Storm assistant coach Jason Ryles often wonders how much pain the 21-year-old, 86kg playmaker needs to put himself through at training.

"When we do our tackling he'll jump in with the bigger boys and really test himself," Ryles says.

"Sometimes I'll look over and think 'can he keep taking that sort of punishment?' But he keeps putting himself through it.

"The main thing for Brodie, his commitment and desire to want to play NRL, to want to put his head into places some blokes don't want to put their head, I think that's his biggest attribute."

Man mountain Nelson Asofa-Solomona is usually kept away from not just Croft, but almost all except the Storm's biggest forwards at training to ensure Craig Bellamy can field 17 fit players each week.

But for Croft, mixing it with Melbourne's middles on the training paddock is his ticket to shunting them around in the 80 minutes that counts most.

"As a halfback you've got to be able to demand the football when you want it, have the authority with your calls and that starts on the training paddock," Croft says.

"With the forwards, they're the main guys I'm bossing around so I try to earn that respect with my defence. At training I try to be aggressive, throw my body around.

"Especially being a smaller body, you earn a bit of respect when you put your body in front and make your tackles.

"That gives them confidence and respect for you, it makes it easier to boss them around because they know what you're willing to do for them."

 

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