Melbourne captain Cameron Smith has paid rival Corey Parker the ultimate compliment ahead of tonight’s NRL showdown, describing the goal-kicking lock as Brisbane’s most important player in recent years.
Parker is tipped to return earlier than expected from a shoulder injury after completing Brisbane’s final training session yesterday.
He didn’t participate in contact drills at the end of the session but coach Anthony Griffin was confident he would play, provided he pulled up well today.
Smith, who played a lot of junior football alongside Parker, was reminded of his value to a team during this year’s State of Origin series.
"Corey is a wonderful player," said Smith, not convinced Melbourne have found their best form despite seeing off a five-game losing streak with two recent wins.
"For the last three years, I don’t know whether there's been a more important (player) to the Broncos.
"‘He does an enormous amount of work defensively, he carries the ball 20 times a game and he's also their goalkicker.
"I know him not being in the side has a huge impact on their performance."
Smith, who has been in Brisbane visiting family since Tuesday, also believes Griffin will pull a late switch and play Josh Hoffman at fullback and return Corey Norman to five-eighth.
"We've heard Hoffman has been named on the wing but I’ve got a suspicion that he’ll be back at fullback and Norman will be playing five-eighth," said Smith.
"That's the way we’re thinking but we’ll have to wait until just before kickoff to see how they line up.
"Training this week suggests Norman will stay at fullback after replacing Hoffman against Canterbury when the No.1 was axed for turning up late to training.
Griffin was impressed with some of the things Norman did in the fullback jumper against the Bulldogs and wants to stick with him there against Melbourne before deciding if he sees out the season as custodian.
"Josh gives us a bit more experience on the wing and I thought Corey Norman was very good with his kicking game and some of his attack.
"He’ll get tested tomorrow night defensively against these guys but having Hoffy on that left wing will help him out."
Smith reminded everyone that Brisbane had rested their Origin stars from the earlier clash in Melbourne and would be a stronger, more desperate opposition at Suncorp Stadium with a big crowd behind them.
"They showed some really good signs to be 14-0 up against the benchmark team of the comp last weekend and we know, with a pretty full stadium tomorrow night, they’re going to be very tough to beat," he said.
Griffin said the Storm were "back in their stride" with Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater finally over their Origin hangover.
"That's their strength and we just have to make sure we limit the opportunities they get to hurt us," said Griffin.