The Melbourne Storm were thrown into the thick of a frenetic player market as they begin their search to replace superstar halfback Cooper Cronk, following his decision to head to Sydney at the end of the season.
The speculation surrounding player movement in the NRL during the season is something coach Craig Bellamy has questioned.
“It seems quite unbelievable this early in the year we’ve got guys thinking of and leaving clubs,” Bellamy said. “It seems to be more news off the field then on the field these days.
“I think it’s really untidy how anyone can go anywhere at any time. That’s what it seems to be. We’ve been so used to it and we’ve had it for so long that it’s just what we do. It’s part of our fabric.”
Almost every halfback or five-eighth that is off-contract at the end of the season appears to be linked to a potential move to Melbourne.
While fans salivate at the prospect of exciting talent coming to join their beloved clubs, it’s an issue that’s drawn controversy from many quarters, with critics believing it is a drawn-out distraction or cruel blow for clubs and fans dealing with a departing player.
Bellamy isn’t sure whether the current environment is ideal while weighing up other possible systems such as a designated trade and free-agency period, or a draft process.
“At the end of the day I haven’t got the answers,” Bellamy said. “Until a lot of people or the powers to be see it’s not the right way for our game to go, then it won’t change.
“I’m not quite sure if it’s the right or wrong way but I think most fans would like to see the players finish the season with the club they start with.”
Bellamy is focused on this week’s task at hand against fierce modern-day rivals, Manly, who – similarly to Melbourne – suffered defeat to break their three-game win streak last round.
While they hold the stingiest defence in the NRL, the Storm are paying close attention to their league-worst error rate (73 errors total) and how to rectify the key concern which resulted in their first loss of the season, going down 11-2 to the Cronulla Sharks after committing 16 errors.
“We’ve gone through what the why is and the solution to the problem. Hopefully we can put that into place and it works,” Bellamy said.
“It’s not just today, it’s an ongoing thing.
“We’ve been putting plenty effort in, especially defensively. Hopefully we can maintain that side of our game and hang on to the ball a little longer.”
The Storm named Jesse Bromwich and Cameron Munster in their 21-man squad but will assess their health in the coming days. Bellamy said Munster will be tested with physical contact, while Melbourne will give Bromwich until Friday to prove his fitness.
Will Chambers is also serving a one-match suspension but the side could welcome fellow centre Cheyse Blair (back injury) against his former side after a surprising quicker-than-expected recovery. However, with the Storm’s next opponent on ANZAC Day – a full 10-day layover between games – they won’t risk anyone.
“We didn’t think he (Cheyse) was any chance early in the week. He’s improved more than the medical staff thought,” Bellamy said. “There’s still a long way to go but hopefully he can make it.
“We have a long turnaround after this, so we’re not going to take any chances with anyone.”