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Big stage star: Storm trust Munster with fitness fate

Cameron Munster's famed ability to play under duress has prompted Craig Bellamy to leave a final fitness call in the Storm star's hands leading into Friday's mammoth clash with Manly.

Munster completed most of Melbourne's captain's run on Thursday with a knee that required a surgical clean-out after a cut picked up against Parramatta became infected.

The Storm's main concern is not Munster being underdone, with little indication the knee injury will hamper his performance, but whether the No.6 pops his stitches and sidelines himself again.

In any case Munster's big-game narrative in recent years has seen him require three painkilling needles to get through last year's grand final, then play the house down for Queensland after asking coach Wayne Bennett if he could delay his arrival in camp to keep celebrating the Storm's title.

One school thought on Munster's availability is to sit him out against Manly as a win would give him an extra fortnight's recovery and Melbourne a week off.

A loss to the Sea Eagles would still see Munster able to come back for week two of the finals, though the Storm would likely then be on the same side of the draw as fellow heavyweights Penrith.

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A final call will be left to Munster on game day with utility Nicho Hynes a ready-made five-eighth replacement should he be passed in.

"It's not so much he's got a knee injury, it's more that it's been split open," Bellamy said on Thursday.

"He's had stitches internally, stitches on the outside and they're just worried about it opening up.

"We won't take any great risk with him without a doubt, but basically the decision's up to him.

"He's an experienced player, he knows what's expected in these big games so he'll make that decision.

"It doesn't look like it's hindering him at all.

"He's just got to make that decision on how it feels and it is a bit of a risk."

While Munster has been somewhat subdued as the likes of Hynes, Brandon Smith and Jahrome Hughes have all enjoyed career-best campaigns, the five-eighth is regarded as one of the best big-game performers in the NRL.

His influence down Melbourne's left edge is one of few that can hold a candle to Manly No.1 Tom Trbojevic, who goes into Friday's final in rarely seen form.

Having done "a pretty good job" to contain the Sea Eagles superstar in a 28-18 victory last month, Bellamy anticipates Trbojevic "going to another level" on the Sunshine Coast.

Storm champion and halves consultant Cooper Cronk floated an 'unconventional defence for an unconventional player' tactic on Fox Sports' Matty Johns podcast during the week, arguing Melbourne should stack an extra defender on whichever side Trbojevic lobs up on in attack.

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Such an approach would leave the Storm short on the opposite edge and open to being exploited by Manly's other threats in Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran and Josh Schuster, but speak to the rare influence Trbojevic holds this season.

Melbourne's own No.1 Ryan Papenhuyzen would hold the key to that bold defensive strategy as the Storm's eyes and ears at the back.

Papenhuyzen himself enjoyed a welcome return to form last week with a hat-trick, 14 tackle busts and 229 running metres against Cronulla, with his gradual recovery from concussion starting to catch fire.

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"[Papenhuyzen] had obviously lost bit of confidence and had a fair few doubts," Bellamy said.

"The injury that he had was obviously pretty severe and he had six or seven weeks where he didn't do much physically or fitness-wise.

"He's had three starting games now so he should be getting back to his peak physically and I think we saw a little bit of that last week.

"Hopefully after what he's been through he's really confident in what he's doing now and is ready to go on Friday night."

 

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