By STEVE MASCORD
MELBOURNE say they are playing better at this stage of the season than 12 months ago when the Storm went on to win a premiership – but rival Wayne Bennett has accused them of tactics “not in the spirit of the game”.
Bellamy said after Sunday’s 23-10 success against Newcastle at Hunter Stadium that Sydney Roosters and South Sydney would have a significant advantage in finishing in the top two under the NRL’s revamped finals system, something he admitted was probably beyond the Storm’s reach.
But the third consecutive Storm win was marred by an incident which many thought should have resulted in halfback Cooper Cronk being sent to the sin bin, for taking out Darius Boyd as he pursued a kick in the 54th minute.
Veteran coach Bennett said: “I was asked recently at the NRL about changes I see in the game … the change I’m seeing now is the deliberate penalties that teams are giving away.
“Certainly the top teams … Melbourne did it today and the Roosters did it when we played them here as well.
“It buys people time. That’s why people do it. It’s not in the spirit of the game as far as I’m concerned. The only way they’ll stop it is sin binning players.”
When hooker Smith was asked whether the Storm were playing better than 12 months ago, he said on radio Triple M: “I’d agree with that … we’ve played three pretty good teams in the last three weeks and come away with wins.”
Bellamy said that while Smith might be right, they would not repeat their second-place finish of last year and that would make their play-off assignment tougher.
“We probably are (playing better) but having said that, there are different teams up the top of the ladder,” the coach said.
“I think in this competition and the way it’s set up, finishing in the top two is a big advantage, rather than finishing third or fourth.
“But having said that, that might be out of our range a little bit now, to be quite honest. If we have to come from third or fourth, sobeit. We’ll do our best..”
Bellamy admitted he’d had have had no complaints if referees Jared Maxwell and Brett Suttor had dispatched Cronk for the indiscretion, which occurred when Melbourne led 10-8. There was a penalty, which tied up the ledger until the 62nd minute.
Knights star Kurt Gidley was outspoken on the issue, saying: “We have these knee-jerk reactions, sending people to the sin bin for punching.
“Let’s use the sin for what it’s meant for. With a professional foul, sending someone to the sin bin is the only way they’ll learn.”
Bennett continued: “There’s no doubt he should have been sent to the sin bin. It’s not sour grapes. It’s a professional foul, in the act of trying to regather the ball to score a try.
“You can’t get much more deliberate than that.
“I don’t know what the sin bin’s for anymore because no-one ever goes to it.”
Newcastle had the better of early play, posting tries to centre BJ Leilua (25th minute) and Uate (32) before Melbourne pegged one back right on halftime thanks to rookie Jordan McLean.
There looked to be a knock-on from Cronk in the lead-up and Smith’s conversion attempt from almost in front hit the woodwork.
Fullback Billy Slater broke the 10-10 deadlock when he flew high to field Cronk’s kick with 18 to go. The no.7 added a field goal and and prop Bryan Norrie scored on the bell.
The match, watched by a 26,822 crowd, allowed Novocastrian fans to pay tribute to hooker Danny Buderus who last week broke the club appearance record.
Smith said: “I guess I can thank him for making me the player I am. However they finish this year, he’ll go out a champion.”
MELBOURNE 23 (J McLean C Smith B Slater B Norrie tries C Smith 3 goals C Cronk field goal) bt NEWCASTLE 10 (J Leilua A Uate tries; K Gidley goal) at Hunter Stadium. Referees: J Maxwell/B Suttor. Crowd: 26,822.
Filed for: THE AGE