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“It is the best preparation we’ve had as a whole squad for several years now.”

That is the pre-season summary of Storm captain Cameron Smith, less than two weeks out from the start of the 2016 season.

With no international fixtures over summer Smith, along with fellow Kangaroos stars Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, were able to report to pre-season training much earlier than previous years.

For a squad that boasts several new faces as well as young and emerging talent, the extended presence of the experienced trio has already proved a healthy benefit.

“It was great just to be around the young guys, have them settled and train together as a squad. It has been a long time since I’ve been able to do that, same as Billy, same as Cooper,” Smith said.

“In previous years it is almost like I’ve had to re-introduce myself to the squad in the past five years when I got back and to adjust to my style of play.

“I think everyone is looking really good, we are in good shape, we are all fit. It is just about getting our skill right and making sure we are playing our smart game of football.”

Last year Storm again shunned the pre-season doubters to reach a preliminary final. That showing is perhaps the reason those doubters are less vocal this time around and the skipper is full of confidence with the improvements that have been made to the squad.

“There is always talk about the age of a few players in the squad but as far as we are concerned we’ve still got good football left in our careers,” Smith said.

“I believe our squad is stronger than it was last year, we’ve got good depth in our forward pack and just overall we are a better football side. It is a matter of transferring that from the training track onto the playing field.”

Melbourne will kick off its 2016 season with back-to-back home games at AAMI Park against the Dragons on March 7 and Titans on March 13.

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