Broncos' target glad he stuck with Storm
HARVARD-bound Melbourne Storm prop Christian Welch is renowned for his intelligence.
Turning down an offer to return home to Brisbane and play for the Broncos was a measured decision by a man who knew exactly what he wanted to get out of his career - and life in general.
An NRL premiership with the Storm, which has so far eluded him, would be the ultimate justification.
The 24-year-old played in the 2016 grand final only for the Sharks to hold sway.
Twelve months later he was forced to look on from the stands, having undergone a knee reconstruction to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, as the Storm crushed the Cowboys in the 2017 finale.
"I was so stoked for my teammates - Cameron Munster, who I live with, the Bromwich brothers (Jesse and Kenny) winning one together, which was really special," Welch recalled.
"But I would have done anything to be a part of that, play that night ... it was a hard night - a bit bittersweet.
Fortunately for Welch, he's stuck with a club that doesn't know anything other than success - and he's hoping it's a case of third time lucky when the Storm takes on the Roosters in Sunday's grand final.
He certainly plans to make every moment count at ANZ Stadium.
"I'm just really excited about this weekend," he said. "I suppose we've been pretty blessed.
"Jason Ryles, our forwards coach, he was one of the game's premier players, played for his state, played for some really strong clubs, the Dragons and Roosters ... but he played in one grand final in his whole career.
"Sometimes there is a bit of an illusion that we'll get here a fair bit, but you never know, this could be the last grand final we play in. I'm certainly not taking anything for granted."
Welch was in his second season, with just 15 games under his belt, when he played his first premiership decider in 2016.
Part of the Maroons' extended squad during Origin, he's now a more complete player and far better prepared for the battle that looms.
"I kind of just fell into it ... landed in a grand final," he said of the 2016 decider.
"It was amazing experience.
"I feel like, I've got to about 60 games now and obviously being a part of Origin this year, I've really come a long way.
"Developing as a part of this forward pack that I'm very privileged to play alongside of, including our leader Jesse (Bromwich), I've really improved as a player."
Welch took some positives out of rupturing an ACL against the Dragons in round nine last season, even though there were tears at first.
"You are out for nine to 10 months - it was a real opportunity to work on some of my deficiencies, particularly my strength and power," he said.
"Instead of playing a game and getting one or two gym sessions in a week, I was doing four to five a week (sessions).
"I was really able to hit the ground running in round one (this year)."
A Gladstone Brothers' product who joined Easts Tigers when his family moved to Brisbane, Welch had met with Broncos coach Wayne Bennett and chief executive Paul White early last year and appeared set to sign.
That was before a talk with Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
Welch explained: "We've had players like Jason Ryles, Brett Finch come to our club late in their careers and speak about how they wished they'd come to the Melbourne Storm as 18-year-olds.
"It's my sixth season here. I thought I knew rugby league before I came to the Storm, but I had so much more to learn.
"It helps when you share the team room with some of the greats: Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Craig Bellamy.
"What makes this club so great is our best players are also our hardest-working players.
"Cameron Smith's in his mid-30s but he's one of the last to leave the (training) paddock, doing his kicking extras or passing. I think that has a flow-on effect to the younger players."
Welch understands it's important to have a balance in life - and set himself up for life after football.
"I think that's really important in the Melbourne Storm environment - we do review and analyse a lot, our game and our training," he said.
"That's what we can attribute a lot of our success to.
"But at the same time it is quite an intense environment.
"You need something to go home to and switch off from footy."
Welch, who has visions of becoming a sports administrator, completed a commerce degree last year and will undertake a course in effective negotiation skills at Harvard next month.
"I'm a realist ... I realise football doesn't go for ever, and doing my knee certainly reminded me of that," he said.
"I've been preparing for post-footy."
But for this week, the focus is on the now, and this latest Storm premiership tilt.