By STEVE MASCORD
MELBOURNE coach Craig Bellamy last night called on the NRL to protect players from the heat by restructuring the draw and rules surrounding drinks breaks – but in the next breath diffused another looming battle with officialdom.
Sixteen days after playing in minus-two degrees Celsius against Leeds at Headingley, the Storm opened their premiership defence with a 30-10 win over St George Illawarra at AAMI Park, with temperatures reaching 33.9 degrees during the match.
As he walked into the post-match media conference, the Storm coach turned to captain Cameron Smith and said: “I know when you don’t whinge about being replaced that it must be hot”.
“I couldn’t believe today we didn’t have the ….break for drinks,” said Bellamy. “To me it was quite silly
“We wanted to have it and St George didn’t want to have it.”
It emerged last night that NRL medical officer Ron Muratore found in favour of the Dragons when Melbourne sought a ruling on the issue, using a formula called the Heat Stress Index. “The people who made that decision, they should go out there and play and they might change their mind,” Bellamy said.
“A bit of commonsense should come into play and take it out of both clubs’ hands.
“It’s something that the NRL might be able to look at – for the first month of the season, just playing night games.
“Let’s do the right thing by the players’ welfare.”
The coach complained during the pre-season about a draw that has the champions playing in Leeds, Melbourne, Townsville, Melbourne and Auckland in the space of six weeks.
There were fears Bellamy would pick a severely weakened side to play North Queensland at Dairy Farmers Stadium next Saturday night, resulting in a clash with League Central.
But Bellamy said: “We’re certainly not going to just leave guys out to make a point.
“We’re not going to take any chances. We left Bryan Norrie out today because the medical staff didn’t really think that he adapted well enough to the heat after being in the cold.”
Hooker Smith said couldn’t “remember a match in recent times where it’s been so difficult to get out there and play … it was like playing in a sauna”.
Explaining his position, Dragons coach Steve Price said: “We felt like it was the right thing to do. We’ve been playing in very hot conditions, when we played up there in cairns against the Cowboys.
“We didn’t feel like it was extreme conditions out there, especially with the late cloud cover that came over. We did the protect protocols and procedures with the current NRL rules.”
Had Melbourne not made five first half errors inside their oppositions’ 20-metre line, their lead at the break could have been much larger than 18-0.
The Dragons managed to bomb a try in circumstances not seen in living rugby league memory when winger Jason Nightingale dived over the dead ball line and tapped the Steeden back into the in-goal.
Team-mate Chase Stanley then pursued the rolling ball back towards the tryline, diving to touch down before it returned to the field of play. He got there too late – effectively scoring a “reverse try” . Dragon Tyson Frizell then fumbled as he tried to scoop up the ball and score.
Billy Slater (14 minutes), Gareth Widdop (28) and Justin O’Neill (35) scored first half tries – Slater’s was a great individual effort – before Dragon Jamie Soward came up with an intercept and raced 70 metres to the line two minutes into the second half.
But the Storm coasted home, O’Neill bagging his second touchdown and winger Mahe Fonua finishing off a dazzling short range movement which included a heady basketball pass from fullback Slater.
St George Illawarra centre Chase Stanley suffered a knee injury with three minutes remaining but said: “It doesn’t feel too bad right now. We’ll see what the scans say.”
MELBOURNE 30 (J O’Neill 2 B Slater G Widdop M Fonua tries C Smith 5 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 10 (J Soward J Nightingale tries J Soward goal) at AAMI Park. Referees: M Cecchin/L Phillips. Crowd: 16,251.
Filed for: THE AUSTRALIAN