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Big three 2.0: Munster, Grant and Papenhuyzen lead Storm into next generation

“To see how they played, I couldn’t wait for the [2021] season to start,” Papenhuyzen said.

Hands up if you support Melbourne ... Harry Grant.

Hands up if you support Melbourne … Harry Grant.Credit:Getty Images

Whether it is good luck or good planning, Melbourne suddenly have a spine that is the envy of the NRL. Munster is locked up until 2023, while Papenhuyzen and Grant are signed until the end of 2022. They might become the second team to go back-to-back in recent years.

A club that nurtured rugby league household names Slater, Cronk and Smith – Smith may return, but the odds are shortening that he will retire – have wasted no time unearthing genuine superstar replacements.

Grant, in particular, was dynamic in his Origin debut, made more impressive as it was his first competitive hitout in six weeks after the Tigers missed the NRL finals.

“I knew what Harry was capable of – he’s a star,” Papenhuzyen told The Sun-Herald. “He’s now an Origin player. I knew what he’d bring to the table.

“He’ll have expectations on him, but like everyone in Melbourne, there’s also a lot of help around you, and if a team focuses on Harry, he’s got Munster just off him, and he’s got Hughesy'[Jahrome Hughes] off him. There’s a lot of talent in the side.”

Cherry-Evans said even he’d been surprised by what Grant did in his Origin debut.

“We all watched him play for the Tigers this year and he looked a long-term player,” Cherry-Evans said. “But I don’t think anybody expected him to have such a big impact on the Origin game. We all knew he’d play well. But he blew me away with how much poise he had, and there was never a moment out there he looked flustered. He was a great spark for us. It was a massive turning point when he came on.”

Storm coach Craig Bellamy has been loathe to comment on Grant given the uncertainty surrounding Smith’s future. He’s also got another top-shelf hooker in Brandon Smith.

And Bellamy’s trusted off-sider, long-serving Melbourne football manager Frank Ponissi, bristled when asked if they were the next “big three”.

“I don’t like that for a couple of reasons,” Ponissi said. “The first reason is because you’re talking about three blokes who had played more than 1000 games between them, won every award and did everything possible there was to do in the game.

“That’s a massive comparison to make for these guys at such a young age. It’s unfair to the players who have achieved what they’ve had, and unfair to the others coming through.

“The other reason is we’re big believers in players making their own history.

“Ryan isn’t Billy, Cameron isn’t Cooper, Harry isn’t Cameron. They’re all creating their own paths.

“They’re not our next big three. They’re their own people. We’re really big on that. They’re all different players and they’re all really different people.

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“For Harry, you’d be a little concerned if a 22-year-old got all the accolades like he did the other night, but knowing Harry the way we know him, he’s so grounded it won’t change him as a person. He’ll be your normal Harry when he gets back here in January. It’s the same as Paps.

“Then you’ve got Cameron, who is a unique guy – there’s never been a Cameron Munster, and thankfully there will be another Cameron Munster. Most of the greys in my hair are because of him.”

Expect the Storm’s “big three 2.0” to give rival coaches plenty of grey hairs in 2021 and beyond.

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