By STEVE MASCORD
HE could easily have been lining up against the Storm on Friday night but club favourite Brett Finch has revealed he will likely be ending his career in Melbourne at the conclusion of this season.
Finch, 31, turned down a larger offer from South Sydney, the Storm’s opponents in an AMMI Park blockbuster to kick off round 22, to rejoin the club with whom he won a grand final in 2009, only to have that title stripped for salary cap breaches.
And although Melbourne officials have been considering offering Finch another year, he is likely to chase a fairytale finish over the next two months, after replacing injured Gareth Widdop in the Storm’s top grade team.
“Finchy is leaning strongly towards hanging up the boots,” his agent, Steve Gillis, told Fairfax Media.
Speaking on Sydney radio station Sky Sports Radio yesterday, the former Hunter Mariners, Canberra, Parramatta, Sydney Roosters and Wigan halfback said: “I was just going to come back and work at the Storm.
“With Gaz’ shocking injury, I’ve played a lot more than I thought.
“At this stage, I’m not thinking about going around again. I’ve been given this opportunity for the back end of the year and we’re going to be playing finals as well.
“I think that would be a nice way to finish. Plus, there’s some good young kids here as well. I don’t want to be standing in front of them.”
There is conjecture over the makeup of both sides for Friday’s match, which is expected to attract at 20,000 crowd despite forecasts of rain.
South Sydney have left the door slightly ajar for fullback Greg Inglis (knee) to play, while Storm coach Craig Bellamy has suggested bunnies rookie Luke Keary could be spared the opening exchanges in favour of Dylan Farrell playing in the halves from kick-off.
“If there is a trade-off for that inexperience (of Keary), it will come out without us targeting it,” the coach said.
And Melbourne centre Maurice Blair remains in doubt after badly jarring his neck last week. Bellamy said Tohu Harris would be considered for the threequarter line if Blair is out.
Bellamy also said he was confident apparent budget cuts under the club’s new owners would not affect the performance of the teams in future seasons. His comments left a question mark on whether departing assistant coach Kevin Walters had been a victim of the administrative restructure*.
“We’ve been told by the owners that there won’t be too many changes in the footy department,” he told a media conference at AAMI Park.
“There’ll be some changes personnel wise. We already know Kevvy Walters is leaving. There might be another couple of changes, personnel-wise but hopefully the structure and what we’ve got in place will stay.
“It’s been a bit of a breath of fresh air having the new owners around. It’s obviously something different …. They’ve been very, very supportive and hopefully it will stay that way.”
Bellamy also said his opinion on the Auckland Nines had not changed since he roundly criticised the concept in February. The competition has been given the go-ahead for next February.
“It just seems as though we’re crowding more in each year,” he said. “It makes it a big workload for our elite players.
“At some stage we have sit back and say ‘hey, we have to look after our elite players. I’m not sure that’s a priority at the moment.
“Unless we’re going to be fined or thrown out of the comp, there won’t be any of our World Cup players playing in the Nines
“I’m pretty sad, to be quite honest, they’re not going ahead with the All Star game.”
Teams for the match, which kicks off at AAMI Park at 7.40pm, are:
MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Mahe Fonua; Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hoffman, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith, Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jason Ryles, Tohu Harris, Jordan McClean, Kenny Bromwich, Slade Griffin (one to be omitted).
SOUTHS: Nathan Merritt; Dylan Farrell, Bryson Goodwin, Dylan Walker, Matt King; Luke Keary, Adam Reynolds; Ben Lowe, Ben Teo, Chris McQueen, George Burgess, Issac Luke, Sam Burgess. Res: Ben Lowe, Nathan Peats, Roy Asotasi, Tom Burgess.
Referees: Ben Cummins/Matt Cecchin.
* Melbourne Storm officials subsequently stated that Walters’ departure was not linked to the administrative restructure.
Filed for: THE AGE