In-demand Adam Blair’s absence from the Melbourne Storm front row has turned out to be more of a weekend break than an extended holiday. Blair spent the pre-season preparing to play in the back row and was named there for the opening-round win over Manly. But coach Craig Bellamy decided on a late reshuffle of his pack, with Blair starting in the front row in place of Bryan Norrie and being one of the Storm’s best in the 18-6 victory over the Sea Eagles. The coaching staff must have been pleased, with Blair listed at prop for Saturday’s home game against Gold Coast, allowing Kevin Proctor – who also shone against Manly – to start in the back row. “I thought I was going to be on the edge but the coach wants me in the middle so I’ve got to do some hard work,” Blair said on Wednesday. “The fitness is a little bit tougher in there, but once I get one game out of the way it can only get better.” The 25-year-old Blair is off contract at the end of the current season and his performances at prop for Melbourne and New Zealand in the last couple of years have made him one of the hottest properties in the game. The Sydney Roosters, the Bulldogs, Newcastle and Parramatta are all understood to be keen to lure Blair north. The Eels could have an advantage, with new coach Stephen Kearney a former Storm assistant and the New Zealand head coach. “He’s a great bloke and a great coach,” said Blair. “I’ve played under him a few times, but I’m trying not to think about those things and focusing on the team.” Blair could reportedly earn up to $500,000 per year on the open market, a massive increase on his current deal with the Storm, although he would also be certain to earn a hefty pay increase should he stay put in Melbourne. “I’m just trying to focus on what I can do for the team this year,” he said. “My manager will sort that stuff out. “I just need to get out there and play some consistent footy and the rest ofit will look after itself. ” … (but) I pretty much grew up at the Storm and I love the place.”

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