Brandon Smith has emerged as the hottest free agent on the market, and the NRL MVP Index reveals why.

Off-contract at the end of this season, Smith is considering leaving Melbourne in search of a regular starting hooker spot, having floated around coach Craig Bellamy's forward pack as the Storm charged their way to the NRL premiership.

In 2020, Smith was the NRL's fourth-best hooker, third-best bench player and in the top 30 middle forwards in the game.

He finished with an overall MVP Index of 67.79, scoring an impressive 65.57 off the bench to trail only Canberra's Joseph Tapine (69.25) and Canberra's Hudson Young (66.54) for interchange impact.





At 180cm and 94kg, Smith has adapted to playing lock and even an undersized prop while acting as Cameron Smith's hooker understudy for the past four years.

Now, with Cameron Smith's departure and Harry Grant's MCL injury, Smith has a chance to string together at least a few matches at hooker for the first time in his career.

Despite it being his favoured position, the 24-year old has never had more than two consecutive starts there.

An impressive string of performances in a tough opening month against premiership heavyweights South Sydney, Parramatta and Penrith will only drive up Smith's asking price, with clubs like Canterbury and the Gold Coast looking to upgrade their hooker position.

Although some experts have suggested Smith may well be better suited to lock than hooker, Fox League's Michael Ennis believes this couldn't be further from the truth.

"Getting an understanding of another position will benefit his game when he does play dummy half full-time," Ennis said.

"There's different styles of dummy half, there's crafty, controlling dummy halves like Cameron Smith and Josh Hodgson and there's your more robust runners, like Issac Luke. Brandon falls into that latter category.

"Brandon Smith can still be one of the elite dummy halves, he's proven that at Test level.

"For a guy who has spent minimal time at dummy half, every time he's been called to play there at representative level he's been outstanding. You can only imagine what he'll be like if he spends more time there."

NRL MVP Index: Queensland's new big three revealed

Hot field to battle for new No. 9 crown

Working against Smith in his sporadic time in the No. 9 jumper is the potential lack of cohesion for the Storm.

"One of the arts of dummy half is those small combinations with your forward pack and your spine. But they take time," Ennis said.

"Brandon just hasn't had that, it hasn't been his focus. He's had a clear role which Craig Bellamy gave him and he's been able to nail it.

"He's a tenacious character, that's why we've all fallen in love with him as a player, but learning how to control a game from dummy half takes time.

"It's about knowing what Jesse Bromwich can do for him, compared to what Felise Kaufusi can do for him, compared to what Nelson Asofa-Solomona can do for him.

"They're just little things Brandon needs to build into his game, but given the quality of player he is it won't take him long."


Plenty has been written about Canberra's tremendous forward depth and the NRL MVP Index reveals just how much firepower the Raiders boast in the middle.

In 2020, Canberra had three of the four top-rating bench players in the league - Joseph Tapine, Hudson Young and Tom Starling.

Tapine and Young will both be full-time starters in 2021 but expect the Raiders to still get more out of their bench than most of their rivals with Emre Guler and Corey Horsburgh to lead the way after they missed much of last season through injury.

Throw in Ryan Sutton, veteran Sia Soliola and newly minted Queensland Origin prop Dunamis Lui and it's a fair selection headache for coach Ricky Stuart.

"That's the challenge for the Raiders, but it's a great challenge for Ricky to have when it comes to that Round 1 forward pack," Ennis said of the engine room that also added former Gold Coast Titan Ryan James to its ranks.

"Tapine was one of the best forwards in the competition last year, there's Hudson Young and Corey Harawira-Naera, Emre Guler and Corey Horsburgh, Saliva Havili as well.

"There's so many challenges when it comes to that front row rotation.

"Tommy, with the pre-season he's had, has put the pressure on to keep himself in the 17 will be a challenge for Ricky to ignore."


Penrith forward Moses Leota started 18 of his 20 games from the bench in 2020, an NRL season high, as he returned an MVP Index of 59.87.

With former Panthers captain James Tamou moving to the Wests Tigers and veteran forward Zane Tetevano joining the UK Super League, Leota, 25, will assume a starting spot in 2021.

The Penrith-raised prop already has 81 NRL games under his belt, a solid base under which to ascend to a starting role.

The Panthers, though, remain light-on in interchange power with Matt Eisenhuth (MVP Index 65.46) and Spencer Leniu (54.55) the only recognised middles on the bench as rookie Lindsay Smith is yet to make his NRL debut.



Originally published as Who is the NRL's MVP? We count down 400 to 1