Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy still undecided on No.7
Melbourne's Craig Bellamy is a veteran of preparing NRL finals teams but 48 hours out from the 2018 series and he is still mulling over who will be his halfback against the Rabbitohs at AAMI Park.
That is the cold, hard proof right there of how Cooper Cronk's departure has messed with the Storm's plans.
Bellamy is about to enter his 15th finals campaign – in 12 of those since Matt Orford left after 2005, he has had Cronk as his No.7.
Storm skipper Cameron Smith said on Monday he believed Brodie Croft would be the halfback on Friday night. But on Tuesday, Bellamy named Jahrome Hughes, with Croft on the extended bench. Ryley Jacks was dropped and Scott Drinkwater is playing for Easts Brisbane in Intrust Super Cup finals.
And on Wednesday, Bellamy told NRL.com he was still undecided.
"Again we've still got to sort our side out. We had six out last week, so some of those guys coming back from injury are still on the line," Bellamy said.
"We'll sort that out as we go."
Someone needs to sort out the kicking game to counteract Adam Reynolds with Bellamy not wanting only hooker Cameron Smith and five-eighth Cameron Munster to do the work.
"Jahrome is not a bad kicker – it's just something he's not used to," Bellamy said.
"That's been the hard part of changing halves. They are only young halves, or inexperienced halves.
"You can't put 10 years of experience into a bloke in six months and expect his skills to be the same, especially with Jahrome as he's never been a halfback.
"He's used to a different skills set. He's quite a clever and natural footy player, he's still learning."
Bellamy makes no secret of the different space he finds himself in this September. A finals series and no Cronk, or at least no halfback that's been there for 24 club matches.
Croft has played nine games, while Hughes five, and Jacks nine as their halfback.
"I wouldn't say it's been weirder than I thought. It was always going to happen as some stage [one of big three going]," Bellamy said.
"Ideally we would have loved for Cooper to finish his career here. But that wasn't practical or realistic with his relationship with [wife] Tara [Rushton].
"We had to move on. It certainly hasn't been ideal without a doubt, losing a player who dominated that position like Cooper does.
"You probably would have liked to have settled on one [halfback], we haven't – we've had three.
"It does mean we've given three players that little but more experience at No.7 so if someone is injured, we've got a back-up there.
"One thing I can say, those three have tried their arses off and they are all different styles of players. So I can't fault their intent or effort."
The other matter stirring up emotions inside the 59-year-old two-time premiership-winning coach is the imputation that the Storm will be at their wrestling best during the finals.
The last time Storm played South Sydney – losing 30-20 in round 21 - Rabbitohs forward Sam Burgess drew the referees attention to what he perceived as overworking the ruck.
But Bellamy didn't miss this week in returning fire.
"It's just the thing someone keeps bringing up against us this time every year," he said.
"You have a look at the stats this year about quick play-the-balls and have a look where we are. No one seems to be complaining this time, unless it's Souths."
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