As if missing three games of footy at a crucial stage of the season wasn't punishment enough for Storm hooker Brandon Smith, missing his mates was even harder to cop.
Smith was banned for three matches after letting fly at referee Adam Gee during the Round 17 loss to the Sharks, and sat idle in the stands as Melbourne were beaten by the Raiders and Rabbitohs to extend their losing streak to four games.
Spirits were lifted on Friday as a 24-12 win over the Warriors lifted the Storm back into the top four and with his exile over, Smith is determined to make amends for his misdemeanour in the final five rounds.
"I've been getting punished, off to the side doing training with the fitness coach and not with the squad," Smith said on Tuesday.
"I was punished for not putting the team first. The isolation for the three weeks was trying to teach me a lesson and it won’t happen again.
Smith: 'It feels good to be back'
"It has been a grind waking up early and training by myself but just being able to hang out with the boys now makes me grateful for being in a team sport.
"Playing with my mates is what I love most and I had that taken away from me for a few weeks to help me understand that you can’t do what I did.
"It was extra hard watching the boys play and lose knowing I could have had an impact on it."
After six years and 101 games at the Storm, Smith is determined to go out on a high before joining the Roosters in 2023, but he knows a second premiership ring could hinge on how they perform in a tough final month against the Panthers, Broncos, Roosters and Eels.
Currently equal with Brisbane and Parramatta on 26 competition points, the Storm have the buffer of a far superior for-and-against differential, but the absence of several big-name players makes their task that much tougher.
"It has been a weird old year for all of us," Smith said.
"We’ve lost four of our starting 13 for the season and it’s been hard to replace them. We're missing Welchy [Christian Welch], Reimis [Smith], Paps [Ryan Papenhuyzen] and George [Jennings].
"Two of them [Smith and Jennings] are on the same edge so we had to get two new players on that side.
"We've had 16 pretty bad injuries but we are still fourth which is crazy. We've managed to keep ourselves in the fight."
Storm v Titans
The arrival of winger David Nofoaluma from Wests Tigers on a loan deal is a massive boost ahead of the Titans game on Friday, and the 28-year-old can't wait to don his new colours and savour the experience of playing finals footy.
"My focus is coming down here and fitting into this team and I’ve put all my energy into that," said Nofoaluma, who needs just five tries to bring up 100 for his career.
"Hopefully I can make this team and this proud. I'm learning the Storm system as fast as possible and hopefully I can make this team and this club proud.
"This will be the first finals in my career so that makes me very excited."
Match: Storm v Titans
Round 21 -
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne