Maguire backs Smith to make No.9 switch

The relationship between Michael Maguire and Brandon Smith could help bring the premiership winner to Wests Tigers after the club confirmed their interest on Friday.

Maguire has coached Smith at international level with the Kiwis since 2018 and backed the 24-year-old to excel as a starting hooker at any club he went to.

It comes after the Storm confirmed Smith would be released from his contract for 2022 as he chases a starting No.9 spot at a rival NRL club.

On Friday Maguire said the Tigers would look at any available player who would improve the team and Smith undoubtably falls into that category of recruitment.

“He’s a very good hooker,” Maguire said.

“I’ve got a lot of time for the way he plays the game and he’s played a different role down there (at the Storm) because of the circumstances, but in the time that he’s been with myself at the Kiwis, he’s been excellent.

“He’s one of those players that everyone loves to play with but his craft around that space, he’s very smart.”

Smith could be a perfect fit at the Tigers after the club was forced to return Harry Grant to the Storm at the end of the season after his breakout year.

Grant and Smith are expected to share the hooking role at the Storm in 2021 should skipper Cameron Smith confirm as expected that he won’t play on in Melbourne next year.

Meanwhile, Maguire’s contract was extended with the Tigers on Thursday, which will keep in charge of the club until the end of 2023.

With his deal confirmed, his next priority is building the success-starved club towards a long-awaited finals appearance in 2021.

Already the Tigers have added James Roberts, Joe Ofahenague and James Tamou to the squad and hope to finalise an extension for club favourite David Nofoaluma before Christmas.

Maguire has worked with the troubled Roberts at South Sydney previously and has backed the former NSW Origin centre to recapture his best at the Tigers.

“It’s up to James,” Maguire said.

“He knows what he needs to do and he’s in a good place at the moment.

“It’s everything around him that we need to make sure for James’ sake, that he gets right, so that when he plays his footy … we all know how he can play and the quality of player he is.

“I’m fortunate that I’ve known Jimmy for quite some time.

“He’s a good kid, he’s a great fella and I know if he gets his mind right he can do anything in the game.”

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Harry Grant lauded as long-term Qld No.9

He could have barely played this year but Harry Grant will finish a surreal season touted as Queensland’s solution at hooker for the next decade.

The 22-year-old capped a remarkable 2020 with a game-turning debut off the bench in Queensland’s 20-14 defeat of New South Wales in Wednesday’s State of Origin decider in Brisbane.

The No.9 probed effectively and snuck through for the decisive try, validating Wayne Bennett’s gutsy call to promote him ahead of tried and tested utility Ben Hunt in the decider.

Stuck behind Cameron Smith and Brandon Smith at Melbourne, Grant made the most of a player swap with Wests Tigers to win Dally M and RLPA rookie of the year and earn a spot in Maroons’ camp.

Not selected until the final game, Grant made 26 tackles, two line breaks and constantly poked holes in the Blues’ defence.

His 56-minute performance prompted former Queensland coach and player Paul Vautin to declare the No.9 jersey his for “the next eight to 10 years”.

“He’s 22; We saw what he did tonight when he came on,” he said in commentary.

“Just brilliant. He virtually turned the game.”

Grant has fond memories of Origin growing up in Rockhampton but said he wouldn’t get ahead of himself after a whirlwind season.

“Going to school on a Thursday, when Queensland won it was a pretty good feeling, so that was always in the back of the mind,” he said.

“It’s pretty surreal, the best feeling … something I’ll remember forever.

“I can’t thank Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers enough for the opportunity … if I did stay in Melbourne (behind hookers Cameron Smith and Brandon Smith) I wouldn’t have played much footy and definitely wouldn’t have been here.”

Bennett was careful to give starting No.9 Jake Friend credit too, the pair even playing together as the Maroons hung on in the final minutes.

“He was very good, but Jake did a lot of work for the first 25 minutes,” Bennett said.

“He was what we needed, that’s the reason we did what we did (replacing Hunt to provide more spark on the bench) and he did that magnificently.”

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