Melbourne NRL skipper Cameron Smith says he’s the fittest and freshest he’s been in recent seasons despite coming off a World Cup.
Smith will get back into action in the Storm’s final trial match against Canterbury in Brisbane on Sunday.
The Test captain led Australia to victory over New Zealand in the World Cup final in late November and has only been back in full training for about a month.
He said last year his holiday was a little too long and he paid the price early.
“I had nearly 11 weeks off and I probably came back underdone and I was carrying a little bit of weight around the belt.
“I feel really good this year, probably the best I’ve felt in two or three seasons.
“I feel like my fitness is well ahead of where I was last year at the same time.”
Test fullback Billy Slater, as well as Kiwi international Jesse Bromwich, will face the Bulldogs however Kangaroos halfback Cooper Cronk is out following post-World Cup shoulder surgery.
Cronk was originally pencilled in for round two but Smith is expecting him to play in their season opener against Manly at Brookvale on March 8.
“He’s certainly very fit, he’s doing extra running after our sessions and he’s looked after himself during the break,” Smith said.
Former Eel Ben Roberts has been named at halfback for the trial, while Ben Hampton takes over at five-eighth following the departure of England international Gareth Widdop, who has joined St George Illawarra.
With Cronk still not confirmed Smith said it was important for the halves to put on a good show against the Bulldogs.
Smith said the team was stung by its early exit from the NRL finals series last year, losing to South Sydney and then Newcastle.
His message this season is about consistency.
“This club is renowned for that and last year was very patchy,” he said.
“A lot of people said it was un-Storm-like the way we finished and I agree; it was very disappointing to be bundled out in straight sets.
“We don’t want to be the most flashy team; we want to turn in high quality football each week and we’ve learnt that if we do that then you’re going to find yourself up the top of the ladder.”