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Cronk absence to shed light on Storm halves future

Chris Kennedy NRL.com Thu, Jan 09, 2014 - 4:48 PM

Cooper Cronk could miss the opening round of the 2014 season due to shoulder surgery. Copyright: NRL Photos

An injury-enforced break to Cooper Cronk means Storm fans may get a much clearer picture of the side's future without 2013 five-eighth Gareth Widdop and reserve playmaker Brett Finch, who both left the club following the 2013 season.

Cronk had an operation on his shoulder in December, with coach Craig Bellamy revealing the star halfback will be struggling to be back in the team for its first round match against Manly at Brookvale and won't play in any of the trial matches.

Bellamy said 21-year-old playmaker and 2013 debutant Ben Hampton is currently the frontrunner to fill the vacant number 6 jersey.

"Ben would probably be in front basically because he has been at the club for a little while, and he played a couple of first-grade games last year," he said.

"Having said that, there are a couple of guys there we want to give a go to and see how they handle it but at this stage we'll start with Ben there."

Cronk's absence means 23-year-old Redcliffe recruit Cody Walker will also get a solid run and may be in line to make his NRL debut in Round 1 if Cronk isn't back by then.

Bellamy said the period will provide "a great opportunity" for both players to stake their claims for a regular starting spot, as well as "a few other players" who may feature during the trails, with the trial games to determine who plays number 6 at the start of the season.

Hooker Cameron Smith has also filled in at halfback in the past for the Storm in Cronk's absence, with the likes of Ryan Hinchcliffe able to fill in at dummy half.

However Bellamy remained hopeful his star halfback would be available for the season opener.