Craig Bellamy: Melbourne have ‘felt the pinch’ during injury-plagued campaign

Melbourne Storm manager Craig Bellamy has admitted his side have struggled to maintain their high level during an injury-plagued season.

Throughout the campaign, The Storm were missing a number of their key staff from their backline, while two long-term layoffs from Ryan Papenhuyzen threatened to derail their year.

“To be perfectly honest, we’ve felt the crisis for a while,” Bellamy said, speaking to the media ahead of his side’s blockbuster meeting with Penrith on Thursday.

The coach will start the year without half his original spine as Papenhuyzen is out for the season after a horrific knee injury and Jahrome Hughes succumbs to a shoulder injury in his most recent starting win over the Gold Coast Titans.

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“That’s what happens in this game — it’s a contact sport, so you get injuries,” Bellamy said.

“If someone falls short, someone else gets a chance. That’s how we like to see it.”

Against the Titans last week, Bellamy shuffled his players around to make up for an injury to makeshift full-back Nick Meaney.

His decision to start Cameron Munster in the No. 1 jersey proved inspired, with the Queenslander scoring a hat-trick in an outstanding performance.

But Meaney’s return to action, coupled with Hughes’ absence, means Munster was back to his regular position at half-time.

He will partner Cooper Johns, who had one of his best games in a Melbourne shirt alongside Hughes last week. However, the rookie will have to adapt quickly as the two playmakers have very different playing styles.

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“He [Johns] will have to change a bit,” Bellamy conceded.

“With Munster he likes to drift and go places the other halves probably don’t go.

“So hopefully Cooper will do a little bit more of what Hughsie does with his role and he should be able to embrace that this week.”

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After a nightmare run that saw them lose four straight games, the Storm have turned their fortunes in the last two weeks with victories over the Warriors and Titans.

A much tougher test awaits them when they travel to the foot of the mountains to take on Penrith, though they are going through a challenging time themselves.

However, Bellamy did not take the opposition lightly, although her halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai missed the duel.

The Panthers’ backline is still intact and a major source of their success. In fact, their full-back, wingers and centers combined averaged 819 yards per game, which is more than any other team in the competition.

This is a key area where the Storm has suffered, with injuries to their outside backs including Papenhuyzen, Reimis Smith and Xavier Coates, resulting in them having the second lowest combined running meters in the league through their backline (560m) scored.

Melbourne have had a terrible record lately against Ivan Cleary’s men, who have lost five of their last eight games against the Panthers.

With a place in the top four, the Storm must break the current hold of Penrith and win two consecutive games away for the first time since May.

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“They’ve probably been the dominant side for the last three years,” Bellamy said.

“A lot of this would have come from the hard work and planning for so many years beforehand. They’ve built their depth and gotten a huge catchment of juniors…they’re doing a great job.

“But we’re just trying to focus on playing our best footy tomorrow night and seeing where that takes us.”

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