PREMIERS Melbourne enter the finals with a mini-crisis in the halves after Brett Finch suffered a career-threatening shoulder injury in the golden point win over Gold Coast.
Five-eighth Gareth Widdop’s return from a dislocated hip on Sunday for feeder team Brisbane Easts in Mackay takes on added significance with Finch forced off in the first half of the 23-22 AAMI Park victory and unable to return.
The veteran is retiring at the end of the season.
“Finchy’s in trouble, he’s got a problem with his AC joint,” said coach Craig Bellamy.
“He must have hurt it early in the game. He didn’t have any strength in his arm at all.”
It would be a huge call for Widdop to play in the finals next weekend after just one game back from an horrendous injury. He is expected to play around 50 or 60 minutes on Sunday against Mackay Cutters.
“We’ll see how Gaz goes, he’s been out a long time,” Bellamy said.
“He’s definitely playing tomorrow …. If he does (get through it), he’ll be a chance.”
Halfback Cooper Cronk, who kicked the winning field goal eight minutes into extra time, described the performance as un-Melbourne Storm-like. The Storm trailed at halftime and conceded a try with two minutes left in regulation time.
Three penalties conceded early by prop Bryan Norrie and another by fullback Billy Slater while in possession put Melbourne under pressure.
“We were good in patches but we weren’t Melbourne Storm-like for the 80 minutes,” said Cronk.
“Look, we’re only one good training session away from being in form.
“That’s not Melbourne Storm football. We’re disciplined, we play the ball down the other end and grind teams out. We gave them an advantage, they took it and we were very lucky to get away with that.”
Captain Cameron Smith said the penalties may have been a result of an attempt to up the ante when it comes to aggression after the previous week’s loss to Manly.
There were plenty of other issues after the match, with the Titans furious at a disallowed try when Ben Ridge was ruled to have touched the ball as he tackled Billy Slater, before Aiden Sezer snatched possession and streaked away to score.
“It just cost us our season, didn’t it?” said coach John Cartwright.
“I’m not a wealthy man, I’m not going to sit here and …. How he came up with the decision, I don’t know, I really don’t know.
“The refs on the field were shocked, the whole crowd were shocked.”
Even Bellamy thought it was a try. Ridge said: “I don’t think I (touched it), I didn’t feel it. I went for Billy and it popped out. That was a turning point, that one.”
And there were widespread calls to scrap golden point – with Australia captain Smith joining the chorus.
“If you even needed evidence,” said Cartwright, “get rid of it, it’s a sham. The defence from both sides were offside for the last eight minutes, or whatever it went for. It’s a lottery.
“There’s enough pressure on these blokes with the whistle to get it right as it is. If they’re not going to blow the whistle in extra time, we may as well not have referees.
“The players might as well just sort it out themselves. It’s a field goal shootout and who can stand offside the most.”
Smith said: “If you can’t get a result out of 80 minutes, you should be happy with the draw. Before that rule was brought in, how many years were we playing the game where we had draws.
“That rule’s been brought in for the fans, which is fair enough, but you have to look at it from the players’ point of view.”
The devastating performance of the unpredictable Dave Taylor had both clubs scratching their heads. “Something’s clicked in him,” said Cartwright.
Smith added: “He could play like that every week if he wanted to but it comes down to him, whether he wants to do it.
“Hopefully he looks at that game that he played tonight and says ‘why don’t I do that every week?’”
Cartwright said he had “half our salary cap siting on the sideline”.
Cartwright didn’t want the drama to detract from the game effort of his short-handed side.
“You’ll probably say Melbourne were off,” he said. “Bullshit they were off. We handled everything they threw at us.”
Filed for: THE AGE