For Kiwis hooker Brandon Smith, it's time to be thrown in the deep end again.

After not playing at dummy half all year for his club, the Storm utility has to fill the specialist role at test level.

The 23-year-old has done it before — he was man of the match in the Kiwis' win over the Kangaroos last year — but it doesn't make it any easier.

In his entire NRL career, Smith has started one game at No 9, playing 57 minutes for the Storm in round 11 of the 2018 season, and had a few minutes at the end of some other games.


Read more: Four test rookies in Kiwis team to face Kangaroos

Otherwise he has been exclusively used as a middle forward, mainly off the interchange bench, stuck behind Australian league immortal-in-waiting Cameron Smith at the Melbourne franchise.

He's adapted superbly, but it doesn't make it easy during the end of year test programme.

Hooker is arguably the most important position in the modern game, and no one touches the ball more.

But while Kangaroos counterpart Damien Cook has had 26 matches there this season, and an Origin series, Smith only has a couple of training sessions to prepare.

But the Waiheke-born Smith is naturally confident, which serves him well in these situations.

"I never really struggled with [the transition] to be honest," Smith told D'Arcy Waldegrave on Radio Sport. "I go in with a good mentality that I can do this job. Some people think I am a bit cocky but I am only mucking around.

"I can do the role and job that the coach wants me to do. It's not too hard; all I need to do is go out there and play footy, and I've been playing since I was three years old. It's nothing to be scared of. I'll just make sure I get my extra reps in, make sure I practice to the best of my ability and go out there and perform."


Smith has always been marked as a special talent, since he starred for the Junior Kiwis in a transtasman test in 2016, and confirmed that belief last year at Mt Smart.

He was tenacious on defence, made several darting runs and capped his test debut with a try in the Kiwis' 26-24 victory.

"I love his competitiveness," said Maguire. "The way he plays, wherever he plays. He has had a lot of time in that nine jersey [growing up] and has shown that he can play at the highest level [there]. Brandon will get better and better the more he plays in the nine."

Although only 1.80 and 94 kilos, Smith's fearless approach saw him excel in his impact role for the Storm in 2019.

He recorded 90 running metres and 22 tackles a game for the minor premiers, off an average of 43 minutes a week.

His biggest task, although with the rest of the New Zealand side, will be shutting down Cook, who is probably the best dummy half runner in the game.

"We do a bit of video on their star players and Cook is one of them," said Smith. "The gameplan is to limit the ruck speed that they have, so Cook can't get out. At the end of the day he is going to do something special eventually in the game and it is up to us how we respond to it."

Maguire has selected four test rookies, with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad at centre and Zane Tetevano, Braden Hamlin-Uele and Corey Harawira-Naera on the interchange bench.

After not making the original squad, Adam Blair is a surprise selection at lock, with Issac Liu injured. Benji Marshall will captain the Kiwis for the record 20th time, taking him ahead of Gary Freeman, after the duo had been locked on 19.