Storm officials always believed Harry Grant was destined to play State of Origin but a swap deal with Wests Tigers fast tracked his debut and the 22-year-old made a compelling case for a loan system in the NRL by starring in Queensland’s 20-14 triumph on Wednesday night.
Grant had already been the pin-up for player loans after emerging from the shadows of Cameron and Brandon Smith to win the NRL rookie of the year award but his 56-minute performance for the Maroons demonstrated the benefits of the hooker’s stint with the Tigers.
Before swapping clubs with Tigers centre Paul Momirovski for the 2020 season, Grant had made just two appearances for Melbourne but he has now played 17 NRL games and starred in an Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium.
“If there was a similar situation in the future we would definitely look at it again, without a shadow of a doubt.” Storm GM of football Frank Ponissi said.
The debut gets better and better for Harry Grant
“He is coming back to us as a far, far better player than when he left, which is fantastic for us, and we are really appreciative of the Tigers for the way they developed him and the way Madge [Michael Maguire] looked after him. I thought it was tremendous.”
While loan deals are commonplace in European sports, including the Super League, it took months of negotiations before the NRL approved the Grant-Momirovski swap.
The Warriors also benefitted from loan deals involving Penrith forward Jack Hetherington, Sydney Roosters forward Poasa Faamausili and Parramatta pair Daniel Alvaro and George Jennings after being forced to relocate to Australia when the NRL season resumed due to border restrictions.
Hetherington has since signed with Canterbury, Faamausili has joined St George Illawarra and Jennings is moving to Melbourne next season, while Alvaro remains with the Eels.
“I think this year showed what is achievable,” RLPA CEO Clint Newton said. “We’ve always been advocates for exploring loan type arrangements provided it is done the right way and the players are included in the process, and both parties can reach agreement.
“I have seen how it works in the Super League, we have seen how it works in other codes and I thought it worked really well on a couple of occasions this year so I think is something the game can continue to explore.
“In circumstances where it is managed, like the Harry Grant one - that is the perfect case and that was the right decision, and the benefits have been there for everyone to see.”
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Had the deal not occurred, Grant would have had few chances to play this season as the second-tier NSWRL and QRL competitions were cancelled due to COVID-19.
However, Ponissi said Grant was ready for regular NRL action so the Storm wanted to find an opportunity for him to play while he bided his time behind Cameron and Brandon Smith.
“Harry was really, really keen and even when the deal was on the rocks Harry was just really, really pushing it,” Ponissi said. “He just wanted to play NRL, he knew he was ready and we knew he was ready, so he was a big driver in it.”
Asked if he also thought Grant was ready for Origin, Ponissi said: “We always thought he would play Origin, we just didn’t know it would be so soon. We weren’t surprised by how well he played but to play 56 minutes in a State of Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium given he hadn’t played any footy for eight weeks was an extraordinary effort. That was enormous”.
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Ponissi said he doesn’t expect loan deals to become commonplace in the NRL but they would be easier to negotiate after the success of the Grant-Momirovski swap.
“Paul Momirovski got to play more footy too and had he not been injured he probably would have been in our grand final team,” he said.
“He was in our starting 13 and he got injured and that opened the door for Brenko Lee to take that right centre position, so Paul benefitted from it as well.
“It was hard to do because it was the first one but it would be easier next time. We went through a lot of things, like what would happen if he got injured, what would happen if we lost Brandon Smith or Cameron Smith, what do we do then?
“We were coming up with all these different scenarios, like what if he goes to the club and really likes it and doesn’t want to come back? We went through all of that internally because it was all new to us.”
Grant is signed with the Storm for the next two years with a mutual option for 2023 and intends to return to Melbourne for pre-season training in January.