Brandon Smith and Felise Kaufusi have told team-mates they are fully committed to Melbourne’s 2022 premiership campaign, while a trimmed down Cameron Munster has been turning heads as the Storm's big names return to training.
Smith has advised the club that he is joining Sydney Roosters after next season, while Kaufusi is the first major signing for the Dolphins in 2023 but both remain key members of Melbourne’s squad until then.
The representative pair were among a group of senior players who endured their first day of pre-season training on Tuesday, with Munster winning the Yo-Yo endurance test, and Smith and recently re-signed prop Christian Welch also performing well.
It has been a rocky off-season for Munster and Smith, who are suspended for the opening round clash with Wests Tigers after admitting to bringing the game into disrepute following Melbourne’s finals elimination by Penrith.
Munster recently completed four weeks stint in rehabilitation and risks a $100,000 club imposed fine if he breaches a 12-month alcohol ban, while the NRL docked the Kangaroos playmaker $30,000 and handed down a one-match suspension.
Smith was fined $15,000 and suspended for one-match by the NRL, while the Storm imposed a $50,000 suspended penalty but he further upset Melbourne officials with comments about the club's culture in a podcast.
The Kiwis hooker has since publicly apologised and he, Munster and Chris Lewis, who was fined $4,000 and suspended for one match by the NRL, are due to apologise to the club’s staff, sponsors and the Storm Old Boys for their actions.
It is a true sign that he is pretty happy with himself when he takes his shirt off before we start.
However, Welch said there was no ill will towards Smith among the Melbourne players and he was committed to helping the Storm achieve further success before departing at the end of next season.
“He ran a pretty good yo-yo and I know people are a bit disillusioned with Brandon at the moment but he kind of just says things quickly and I know he is going to rip in for this team, and he is fully committed to our club,” Welch said.
“I just ask all the fans and members … I know you might be a bit upset with him at the moment, but he is going to rip in and give his all and we are going to have a great season ahead.”
Kaufusi also said he wanted to finish his eighth season in Melbourne on a winning note before the Queensland and Australian second-rower heads to Brisbane as a marquee signing for the Dolphins.
“It is exciting and to be honest it hasn’t really hit me yet,” Kaufusi said of the move. “I am looking forward to being closer to family but I am happy to be here for the next year and hopefully we can play in front of our home crowd.
“It is good to see all the boys, we enjoyed our break and now we are getting into it.”
Among the stand-out performers at training was Munster, who impressed team-mates with his physique as much as his efforts in the Yo-Yo test.
“I think it is a true sign that he is pretty happy with himself when he takes his shirt off before we start,” Kaufusi said. “He went really well and credit to him, he has been putting in the work.”
Welch added: “He looks really good, he has been smashing his training. I think he is the lightest he has ever been, so he is really committed and is obviously making some healthy choices”.