Hampton plays down star turn
After being a critical player in Melbourne's stunning 20-point reversal against Manly on Saturday night, rookie Storm pivot Ben Hampton has played down his starring role and suggested his spot in the side is far from safe.
However his coach was glowing in his assessment of Hampton's second half efforts.
In the first half, Hampton was a part of Melbourne's misfiring right edge defence (which also included Mahe Fonua and Sisa Waqa) that was torn apart by Kieran Foran, Steve Matai, Brett Stewart and Justin Horo, conceding three of Manly's four first-half tries through that corridor.
He and halfback Ben Roberts also produced a number of poor last-play options as the Storm were run ragged and struggled to hold on to the ball, earn repeat sets or score points.
But the 22-year-old was dominant after the break and had a hand in all three of Melbourne's second half tries as they levelled the scores from 20-4 down at halftime before going on to win in golden point.
First he supplied a ball for Billy Slater whose cut-out pass put winger Sisa Waqa over, then Hampton scored himself as he found his damaging running game, a huge right foot step close to the line allowing the Storm to get within touching distance.
Then in the 55th minute his desperate chase through on a Roberts kick allowed him to grab Slater's bat-back and offload under pressure with Kenny Bromwich cleaning up to score, bringing the Storm level.
Asked about his improved running game in the second half, Hampton told NRL.com: "It got a bit wet there. I thought it'd be a bit safer to try and hold onto it a bit more and keep possession of it."
And asked about his side's improved last-play options, he said while they were definitely better in the second half "there were a couple of shaky ones there" as well.
"It came down to possession in the end, that's what won the game I reckon. Holding the ball there in the second half definitely helped," he said.
Although Storm coach Craig Bellamy revealed during the pre-season Hampton had the inside running for Gareth Widdop's vacant No. 6 jersey ahead of fellow new recruits such as Cody Walker, Hampton insists his spot in the halves was never guaranteed.
"It was never a definite thing, me starting at five-eighth, there was always Joel Romelo, Cody Walker and a couple of other people that were in line for that position. I was lucky enough to start at 6 along with Benny Roberts, he's had a lot of experience in the halves in the NRL, it was a privilege to play with him as well and I think he did a really good job tonight."
He said he had not yet had any indication from the coach if he would still have a first grade spot when Cronk returned.
"Not really to be honest, a few boys there are really working hard. I'm not too sure definitely when Cooper will be back but I'll keep working hard like I have been and keep pushing for that playmaker spot," he said.
"Everyone's in the running for it, it's healthy to have competition, we're all teammates but at the same time we're all pushing each other to try and get the best out of each other, that's the nature of the game I suppose."
However Hampton's coach was far more glowing of the young pivot's efforts when he addressed the media post-game.
"The thing with Benny, it's a pretty tough job to go out there and run the team. He's been doing it the whole pre season, but when you're actually doing it in the heat of the game and especially here [at Brookvale], it's a tough place to play," Bellamy said.
"For him to not drop his bundle, because there were a few things not going our way in that first half, and he was part of that defensive edge on our right hand side, I was just real proud of him that he kept sticking to what he was doing well and what he had to do."
The fact Hampton's selfless ball running meant he copped plenty of big hits from a desperate Manly side (one of which left him on the ground and receiving treatment for several minutes) was also not lost on the coach.
"I thought in the second half, one of his strengths was running the footy, because he's quick. He's not real big but he's quick and he's tough, he can take a bit of punishment in defence, we knew they'd target him tonight but in that second half, when he had a chance to run it he ran. He did a real good job for us," Bellamy said.