By STEVE MASCORD
MELBOURNE Storm are set to keep South Sydney guessing over whether England five-eighth Gareth Widdop will make a near-miraculous return from a dislocated hip in Friday’s qualifying final at ANZ Stadium.
Widdop, who was expected to be out until 2014 when he suffered the horrific injury on June 24, was named on an extended bench after making his return in the Queensland Cup on Sunday.
Speaking early Tuesday afternoon, coach Craig Bellamy said the formula was simple – if Brett Finch doesn’t overcome a shoulder injury, Widdop would be in. Widdop would continue a long tradition of players overcoming major injuries to play in the finals.
Later in the day, after the team trained, back rower Ryan Hinchcliffe told Fairfax Media: “It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen at this stage. It’s our first day back in and we mainly did weights.
“Gaz looks like he came through the weekend OK and Finchy’s trying hard to be fit as well.”
Bellamy had told reporters: “Finchy’s improved a lot the last 48 hours, to be quite honest. He’s had cortisone in whatever joint that’s sore.
“We’ll see how he goes, see how Gaz goes and we probably won’t make the decision until Thursday or Friday.
“(Widdop was) a little bit tired but you expect that. He hasn’t played for 11 weeks, 12 weeks and he played up in Mackay. It was quite warm, too, I think.
“He got through it OK. He seemed reasonably happy with his skill and his fitness levels.
“If Finchy don’t come up, he’s going to be in. He’d like a few more games under his belt, obviously, but that’s not going to happen. He’s had plenty of experience in the last couple of years, he’s very confident in his fitness so he’ll be right to go.”
Asked if Widdop would retain a bench spot should finch be fit, Bellamy replied: “Depends. We’ll just see how Brett pulls up.
“Finchy’s done a really good job the last eight or nine weeks. Obviously, the other option’s there but we don’t want to make that decision til we see how Finchy comes up. No use worrying about something we don’t have to worry about. “
While Melbourne named a five-man bench for the opening match of the finals series, Souths are unchanged.
Last time they met, at AAMI Park, on August 9, Bellamy and former protégé, Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire, reportedly clashed over a newspaper story which had named the Sydney team’s wrestling coach.
“We’re good mates,” said Bellamy. “I coached him when he first started playing grade in Canberra. He spent five years here.
“You can make out of it what you like but there was a bit of an issue there. We had a discussion. We sorted it out, shook hands. As I said, there was an issue but … it wasn’t a big issue but it was something that probably had to be mentioned. It was. We done it between ourselves and it’s business as usual this week.”
Filed for: THE AGE