Cooper Cronk could miss the opening round of the 2014 season due to shoulder surgery. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Melbourne Storm could start their NRL season with two new halves, with Test No.7 Cooper Cronk in doubt for their round-one clash with Manly.
Cronk has had shoulder surgery since returning from the World Cup, where he played a key role in Australia's triumph over New Zealand.
He won't play in any of their trials and is rated an outside chance of being ready for Melbourne's season opener at Brookvale Oval on Saturday, March 8.
"He has had an operation on his shoulder so that is the main reason he won't play in any of the trials," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
"I'm not quite sure he will be ready for round one."
The Dally M Medallist carried the injury through 2013 but aggravated it during the World Cup.
With the departure of five-eighth England international Gareth Widdop to St George Illawarra and the retirement of Brett Finch, the Storm could have two rookies in the halves for game one.
Ben Hampton has been in the Melbourne fold since 2012 and made his NRL debut last season, playing two games after Widdop was injured.
The 21-year-old is the frontrunner to wear No.6 or Cronk's jumper but will be challenged by former Canterbury player Joel Romelo and Queensland Cup player Cody Walker.
"Ben would probably be in front basically because he has been at the club for a little while, he played a couple of first-grade games last year," Bellamy said.
"Having said that, there are a couple of guys there we want to give a go to and see how they handle it.
"It will be the trial games that determines who plays No.6 in the first game."
The Storm play their first trial against Canberra on February 8 at AAMI Park.
Test fullback Billy Slater and Australian captain Cameron Smith aren't due back at training until January 20.
Slater is still recovering from minor knee surgery but is believed to be on track for round one.
Bellamy said he wanted to have Smith's playing future sorted out soon after his return.
The world's best hooker has been offered a multi-million-dollar deal to return home to Queensland with the Brisbane Broncos and is believed to be leaning that way due to family reasons.
Bellamy wants an answer either way.
"During the World Cup he would have had his mind on other things," he said.
"Hopefully since then he's had a chance to think about things and when he comes back things will move on a bit quicker than what they have been and we'll get some sort of decision so we can get on with life."