William Botoulas, Melbourne Correspondent
Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy is confident his side can continue its stunning Round 1 record when it takes on Manly at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.
The Storm will be gunning for their 10th straight Round 1 victory against the Sea Eagles but will be without key playmaker Cooper Cronk for the trip to the northern beaches.
Cronk has failed to overcome a troublesome shoulder injury that has limited him for much of the pre-season and has only taken part in light training this week.
"He was real close (to playing) but we are probably being a little bit conservative to be honest," Bellamy said.
"It's only Round 1 and there is a lot of footy still to be played so we just think this is probably the best option for Cooper at this stage of the season."
Ben Roberts, who signed with the Storm in January after two seasons with Parramatta, will debut for the club in Cronk's absence.
Despite the club's high hopes for their new recruit, Roberts will have significantly sized shoes to fill in the No.7 position.
Cronk's stellar 2013 season saw him record 25 try assists (equal 2nd in NRL) on the way to the Daly M medal and a blistering World Cup campaign for the Kangaroos.
Roberts on the other hand managed just five assists from 18 games at the Eels.
The halfback match-up will be a considerable cause for concern for Melbourne, as Roberts' opposing number will be creative Sea Eagles play-maker Daly Cherry-Evans.
Cherry-Evans recorded 14 assists and 11 tries in a scintillating 2013 which saw him lead Manly to the first week in October and a very bitter-sweet Clive Churchill Medal.
However despite the obvious difference in quality at the halves, the Storm are hopeful Roberts can perform against Cherry-Evans, who along with Kieran Foran form what Bellamy describes as "probably the best halves combination in the competition".
"Benny Roberts has been around a bit so he's had good experience, he would have played against Manly plenty of times and Brookvale plenty of times and probably would have come up head-on with Daly," said Bellamy.
"Each and every week he's getting a little bit better at fitting into our system and our processes so hopefully it will all come together for him on Saturday night."
In further injury concerns, forward Ryan Hinchcliffe remains in serious doubt for the trip to Manly.
The 29-year-old injured his ankle in the trial match against the Bulldogs two weeks ago and has not trained since.
A decision will be made on his fitness on Friday before the team flies up.
In a positive spin though, dynamic Storm playmaker Billy Slater will take his place at fullback.
Slater has not played competitive football since last November's World Cup but his coach remains confident his start will pick up exactly where he left off.
"Obviously he will be a little bit underdone but he has played quite a bit of footy over the last few years so he's going to pick it up pretty quickly," said Bellamy.
"He's done all of our training the last two weeks so we think he will be as good as he can be."
The Storm will take on the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval this Saturday night at 7pm.