Melbourne Storm football manager Frank Ponissi has fired back at Brandon Smith's now infamous podcast comments, insisting that he found claims about a drinking culture at the club "puzzling".
Smith shocked the 2020 NRL premiers with a series of revelations in a recent expletive-laden podcast which left his immediate future with Melbourne in doubt.
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The club has already announced he will depart when his contract ends at the end of next season, with the Sydney Roosters set to announce his signature as soon as this week.
One particular part of Smith's interview came under fire after the star hooker suggested that an alcohol culture was a significant part of what has arguably been the most successful club over the last decade.
Smith alleged in the podcast Melbourne had a "massive drinking culture", which Ponissi strongly denied.
"I found the drinking culture (comments) puzzling - I think you only have to look at our record over the past seven years ... you don't have those performances over a long period of time if you've got a drinking culture," he said.
"There's five per cent of things he shouldn't have said and he regrets saying them now.
"There were a lot of disappointed people and thankfully no more disappointed than himself."
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy - who's taken the Storm to three premierships during his time in charge - told The Daily Telegraph he was also shocked about Smith's drinking comments.
“The drinking thing … we’ve been in the top four seven years straight,” he said.
“And that doesn’t happen if you’re a team of drunks.
“I’m not saying we’re teetotallers because we’re not but we stick to our protocols in regards to the drink. We plan to have our drinks when we have a longer turnaround.
“We’ll have a night out together but it’s always at the appropriate times.
“I’m confident we don’t have players drinking two, three or four days before a game. That wouldn’t be acceptable.”
Brandon Smith needs to prove Storm commitment for 2022
Ponissi said he had spoken to Smith who had apologised, but felt the hooker needed to show he wanted to be a part of their 2022 campaign.
"It all starts for him tomorrow and you could certainly use the word regain the respect or trust or whatever you want to call it," Ponissi told 3AW radio on Monday night.
"There's obviously some work to be done by Brandon ... not just through words but through actions.
"He's contracted to the club and if he can show he wants to be here then this is where his future will be."
Ponissi, who has been at the club as coach Craig Bellamy's right-hand man since 2007, also denied the Storm had shopped Smith around for next season.
He did concede the club had been approached.
"There was crazy speculation on the weekend about swapping him," he said.
"I can guarantee we didn't approach a club."
While Smith will return, prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona who is also due back Tuesday, won't be able to join training after opting not to get a COVID vaccination.
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