His one and only season in Melbourne has already been the most successful of his career but despite being just 80 minutes away from a grand final, Beau Champion insists he has no regrets about his decision to head to the Gold Coast in 2012.
Champion informed his management as far back as April that he wasn’t settling well into Melbourne life, knocking back a two-year option to remain with the now minor premiers and signing a new three-year deal with the Titans instead.
Five months later and Champion is on the verge of capping his brief stay at the Storm with a premiership but he told NRL.com ahead of tomorrow night’s clash with the Warriors that he is at peace with his decision.
“I’ve got no regrets,” he said. “I’ve always said football-wise that this is an awesome organisation – it’s just that living down here doesn’t suit what I wanted and doesn’t suit me. I doubt that I would be able to get the best out of my football and life down here because it just doesn’t suit my needs.
“I don’t look back with regrets. I remember when I just wanted to play one NRL game and now I have the opportunity to go and extend my career for at least another three years at a club that’s hopefully on the up. I’m sure I’ll think about it all more when the time comes rather than worrying about it now.”
Despite his impending departure, Champion said he had relished the experience of playing alongside Melbourne’s ‘big three’ – Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk – who he has credited with adding another dimension to his game.
“It’s funny because people like to look at statistics and say, ‘well you scored 14 tries in 18 games last year while down here you’ve played 15 games and scored seven’ – people wouldn’t consider that an improvement but I believe that smaller areas of my game have improved,” he said.
“I think I’ve gained so much experience off these players and learnt so much from the coach that I think it’s going to put me in really good stead with my future career with the Gold Coast. I think it’s going to make me a better player in the long run.
“No matter what happens from here, I see this year as a big positive and I believe that I’ve gained a lot of experience from others. To play in this finals series and to play in big Friday night football games against the best teams in the competition when you know they’re going to turn up and play to their highest level has been great.”
Champion wouldn’t be the first player to find himself in the right place at the right time during a brief one-year stint at a club – team-mate Adam Woolnough is in the same boat – but a premiership would certainly prove a remarkable feat given that he had never played a finals game before this season.
The former South Sydney centre was the man in the middle of the famous player swap with Greg Inglis and while the Bunnies failed to reach the finals, Champion could well reap the benefits.
“The experience has been awesome,” he said. “It’s really exciting. This is the reason I came down to play in Melbourne – to be part of times like this.
“I’m not trying to think too far ahead but if we can put in a good performance this weekend it will be awesome. I’ve been buzzing the past three or four weeks because semi-final time is when everyone wants to play.
“To win a premiership would be absolutely awesome and a dream come true.”
The Storm head into tomorrow’s clash firm favourites to reach their fifth grand final in the past six years although Champion insists they remain wary of a Warriors outfit still riding high following last week’s stunning comeback against Wests Tigers.
With the likes of speedsters Kevin Locke, Shaun Johnson and James Maloney in hot form over the past two months, he said it was crucial that Melbourne cut down on the time the Warriors’ backs enjoyed with the ball.
“And to do that we need to slow their go-forward,” he said. “Feleti Mateo is their key off-loader but they probably do have three or four guys in their team that do play their game where they can offload the ball and get it to their fast halves or Kevin Locke. He has been in great form the past seven or eight weeks.
“That’s how they play the game – getting their forwards to roll over the advantage line so that their speedy backs have time with the ball. Even Maloney we’ve seen make a high number of line-breaks and score a lot of tries this year. Locke, Inu, Manu Vatuvei on the wing if he gets a chance to wind up.
“It’s all about limiting the time they’ve got with the ball and making them make their decisions under pressure rather than dictating the game to us. But it’s easy to say… it’s harder to do given the size and the power a lot of their guys have.”
“We are facing a team that is as unpredictable as anyone in the competition so it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Keys to making the Grand Final:
• The Storm have lost only two finals matches over the past five years (from 11 games).
• Melbourne are undefeated in five Preliminary Final appearances; however the Warriors remain the only club this century to defeat Melbourne in a home finals fixture (2008).
• Expect the game to be close 18 of the 28 clashes between the Warriors and Melbourne have been decided by single figures.