Storm Lacked “September Buzz”, Says Bellamy

By STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE Storm’s premiership defence ended with a startling admission from coach Craig Bellamy that his side lacked finals hunger.

Down 18-4 to Newcastle with 33 minutes left in the second preliminary semi-final, Cameron Smith’s men charged back but fell just short in a pulsating clash before 19,649 fans. It marked the end of the careers of representative stars Jason Ryles and Brett Finch.

“A lot of you guys, especially, have said we didn’t have the September buzz, for want of a better word,” Bellamy, who also led his side a world club championship at the start of the year, told reporters.

“And I think you are right. We just didn’t have .. whether it’s the want, desire, the reason to believe, I’m not quite sure.

“But the last couple of weeks we just didn’t have that something that you need in September.

“While the guys fought really hard in the last two weeks, we got behind in both games by 14 points and fought hard. There are positives there but we certainly contributed to our demise.”

Exhausted captain Cameron Smith said the defeat would give him many sleepless nights. “It’s hard in this competition to go all the way every year,” he said.

“Taking out 2010, this is our worst result since 2005. This is the first year we haven’t made a prelim (final) and haven’t made a grand final. That gets lost in the result tonight but that’s a fair achievement for an organisation to do that.

“We just weren’t good enough tonight and we weren’t good enough this year.

“The most disappointing thing is not that we’re out of the competition, but the way we’ve gone out.

“We had a team there capable of doing something this year but we didn’t play good enough when it mattered.

“I’m not thinking about next year yet. I’ll probably have a couple of sleepless nights over the next week, pondering what could have been this year.”

Asked if he was disappointing to hear his coach say the side lacked hunger, captain Cameron Smith said: “Yes and no.

“Yes because we don’t want to be that type of football side. We certainly don’t train to be that type of team but it’s sort of been happening that way in the back half of the year where we’ve struggled early in games and given opposition teams head start.”

Asked whether he felt the Storm lacked the required buzz, he said: “Not really. Not with our preparation.

“With our performances over the past few weeks, maybe. Particularly the last two weeks. You need to play your football with a lot of energy and intensity – especially this time of year – and that was a concern for us.”

Bellamy said his charges “got a bit frantic when we got within two”.

“If you take the last two weeks out of it, it’s been a really good year for us,” said Bellamy.

“We went over to England and won the World Club Challenge, then we started off with six or seven wins in a row. We had a couple of rough patches, we came through those rough patches pretty good and found a way to come third in the minor premiership.

“I think our draw this year, how it worked out, we travelled a lot early to hot places and we had short turnarounds and whatever.

“It was a really tough draw this year but the guys come through it really well. We had a couple of downs as you’d expect but we just didn’t seem.”

Winger Sisa Waqa is in doubt for the World Cup with a grade two medial ligament tear.

Filed for: SUNDAY AGE

Half A Crisis For Storm

Melbourne - Brett Finch picBy STEVE MASCORD

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

NRL round 26: MELBOURNE 23 GOLD COAST 22 at AAMI Park in golden point time

By STEVE MASCORD

COACH John Cartwright said a highly contentions video refereeing decision had cost Gold Coast their season as calls to scrap golden point time extended even to Australia captain Cameron Smith.

The 2013 NRL regular season concluded with officiating drama when Titans five-eighth Aiden Sezer snatched up a wayward Billy Slater pass to score what he though was a match-levelling try with eight minutes to go in what was a sudden death game for Cartwright’s side.

But even though on-field official Shayne Hayne thought it was a try, that view was overturned by video referees Justin Morgan and Chris Ward, who ruled defender Ben Ridge had touched the Steeden as he tackled Slater.

Replays cast significant doubt on that decision and Ridge told Fairfax Media: “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.”

Asked about the call, a distraught Cartwright said: “It just cost us our season, didn’t it?

“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.

“I’m emotionally drained. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve never felt like this, I don’t think, ever.”

Captain Greg Bird said Ridge “blatantly didn’t touch the ball, you could see he didn’t touch the ball Melbourne players on the field at fulltime, they knew he didn’t touch the ball. There must have been a secret camera angle.”

While Cartwright was wary of being fined $10,000 for criticising referees, he didn’t hold back when asked about the entire concept of golden point time.

“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.”

Sezer agreed, saying: “The rules should be changed, we’re just going for field goals. It’s probably not good for the crowd, not good for the players.”

And Smith, whose side is set to go into the finals without a recognised five-eighth after a shoulder injury to Brett Finch, said he wasn’t a fan.

“If you can’t get a result out of 80 minutes, you should be happy with a draw,” said Smith. “Before that rule was brought in, how many years were we playing the game where we had draws?

“That rule has been brought in for the fans, which is fair enough, but you have to look at it from a player’s point of view.”

Despite the disallowed try, Gold Coast still managed to send the game into overtime after an intriguing confrontation between Origin rivals Billy Slater (Melbourne) and Greg Bird (Gold Coast).

With his side leading by six and just three minutes remaining, Slater retaliated while his team was in possession after being tackled heavily by Bird while held by another Titan.

Dave Taylor, outstanding all night, put winger Anthony Don over and Sezer converted. The deadlock lasted well into the second period of overtime, when Cooper Cronk landed a one-pointer from about 30 metres out.

“It’s about time I kicked one – looks like I’ll have to do some practice,” said Cronk. “These big games, you have to land the chances. I’m pretty disappointed in myself that I didn’t get two or three or four before that.

“We weren’t Melbourne Storm-like for the 80 minutes. We’re only one good training session away from being back in form.”

Melbourne’s Kenny Bromwich was involved in a cannonball-style tackle on Mark Ioane in the final quarter of the match which could attract the interest of the match review committee.

Gold Coast led 16-12 at halftime with Taylor almost unstoppable after replacing the injured Nate Myles in Cartwright’s starting side.

“Dave Taylor can play like that every week,” said Smith, “it’s up to him.”

Slater’s try double brought his total in the last five matches against Gold Coast to nine.

Titans replacement hooker Matt Srama suffered a dislocated shoulder after only about four minutes on the field and is unlikely to play post-season internationals for the Philippines.

MELBOURNE 23 (B Slater 2 S Waqa W Chambers tries C Smith 3 goals C Cronk field goal) bt GOLD COAST 22 (D Taylor Takairangi A Don tries A Sezer 5 goals) at AAMI Park. Referees: S Hayne/G Morris. Crowd: 13,826.


Filed for: SUN-HERALD

Storm On The Lookout For New Assistant Coach

Melbourne - David KidwellBy STEVE MASCORD

TWO days after Craig Bellamy insisted he would be retiring at the end of his current contract and 24 hours after confirming the appointment of his newest assistant, premiers Melbourne are again on the lookout for a coach.
Adam O’Brien, the Storm’s development coach, will replace departing Kevin Walters in 2014. As revealed during the week, Bellamy’s other offsider, David Kidwell, is also planning to leave at season’s end. Bellamy has three years left at the club and told Channel Nine on Thursday he would retire at the end of that period.
The club might have thought it had a solid succession plan in place but is now facing the prospect of starting from scratch.
Melbourne football manager Frank Ponissi – in Newcastle for Sunday’s clash with the Knights – declined to comment on Kidwell’s situation, saying it was up to the former New Zealand international to make an announcement on his future. But he said O’Brien’s appointment had been made weeks ago, although it was made public only late last week.
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“Pretty much straight away, we appointed Kevvy’s replacement internally,” he said.
A large and competent staff has been a key feature of the Storm during their run of success over the past decade. Officials say that while a restructure taking place, it had no impact on the assistant coaching positions. But the departure of two assistant coaches at the same time will create some instability.
Bellamy told Nine: ”I have three years to go after this year and I don’t see myself going any longer than that. I just think it will be time for someone else to take over. I’d like to think I’ll still be involved in the game somehow, but certainly not as head coach.”
On the field, officials are confident centre Maurice Blair will make his return from a badly jarred neck at Hunter Stadium and is likely to replace Justin O’Neill.
Both sides named five-man benches. Melbourne are shooting for a seventh consecutive win over the Knights, who are desperately trying to stay in the finals race but have been successful in only one of their last four home games.

Filed for: SUNDAY AGE

Storm Could Start Doubting Themselves, Says Campese

Canberra - Terry CampeseBy STEVE MASCORD
CANBERRA captain Terry Campese has predicted self-doubt could creep in for the out-of-sorts Melbourne Storm if the Raiders hold them out for the opening 20 minutes of their crucial clash.
The Storm arrived in the capital late Saturday hoping to end a two match losing streak and right their premiership defence. While Melbourne have won 10 of their last 11 games at Canberra Stadium, the Green Machine hasn’t been beaten there all year.
“The main focus for us … will be the first 20 minutes,” five-eighth Campese said at training on Saturday.
“If we can match it with them in the first 20, hopefully they start asking themselves a few questions and that’s when we can get on top of them.
“That’s when young Tony Milford and players like that, like Reecey (Robinson) come into their own and can hopefully create some havoc in the middle.”
Campese, who turns 29 on Sunday, predicted the premiers and world champions would be “fired up”.
“They’ve lost two in a row and it’s definitely unlike Melbourne to be in this kind of slump,” he said. “I know Craig Bellamy will have them at their best.”
But Canberra aren’t just hoping for victory, which would leave them just one competition point behind the Storm. David Furner’s side has its sights on a top four finish – even though they have arguably the toughest run of any of the teams around them.
“We’ve got a tough run home – I think everyone we play’s in the top eight (plus the Warriors)… top four’s our main focus,” he said. “You get a home semi-final and if you lose, you get another week.”
Canberra could be further boosted by the late inclusions of centre Jack Wighton (groin) and prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (foot).
“Close, very close,” Furner said when asked about the chances of the pair playing. “Tommy and Jacko are going to do a bit of warm-up.”
But controversial NSW Origin star Blake Ferguson will not be playing a role. He played NSW Cup on Saturday.
phonto (1)“The team’s been going well, Fergo said to me after the game last week he was underdone,” Furner explained. “And even in the fitness during the week….I know he’s been doing some alternative training in those four or five weeks but …..
“I expect a good showing for the following week. I watched his game … there’s some areas there he needs to work on. It’s just about match fitness.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy, meanwhile, says assistant Kevin Walters will definitely stay on untol the end of the season, regardless of whether he is appointed as Neil Henry’s replacement at North Queensland.
“We do things a little bit differently than in the AFL,” said Bellamy. “I’m not going to cut off my nose to spite my face.
“Kevvy’s does a good job and and is an important part of what we do here.”
Teams for the match, which kicks off at Canberra Stadium at 2.05pm, are:
CANBERRA: Anthony Milford; Reece Robinson, Jarrod Croker, Joel Thompson, Sandor Earl; Terry Campese ©, Josh McCrone; Shaun Fensom, Joel Edwards, Josh Papalii, Dane Tilse, Glen Buttriss, David Shillington. Res: Shaun Berrigan, Jarrad Kennedy, Brett White, Paul Vaughan.
MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Justin O’Neill; Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hoffman, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith ©, Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jason Ryles, Tohu Harris, Siosia Vave, Slade Griffin .
Referees: Jared Maxwell/Gavin Morris.

Filed for: SUNDAY AGE

F

Finch Not Storm Will Determine Veteran’s Future

Melbourne - Brett Finch picBy STEVE MASCORD

A TEAM-MATE’S misfortune has given him the glimpse of a fairytale send-off and Melbourne Storm favourite Brett Finch is not guaranteed to play on next year even if the club asks him to.

Finch, 31, lines up against the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday with Melbourne’s big three – Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith – back from Origin duty and looks set to wear the no.6 jersey for the rest of the season.

After spending most of the season in the lower grades, Finch’s opportunity came with regular five-eighth Gareth Widdop’s dislocated hip suffered on June 24. He is yet to be offered a contact for next year.

“In the end, it will be Finchy’s decision rather than the club’s,” said the former NSW half’s agent, Steve Gillis.

“We’ve had some dialogue with the club but there has been no decision from them. We might know more in the next two three weeks.

“I spoke to Brett this week and he is comfortable to take his time over it. They might ask him to play on and he agrees. They might ask him to and he might decide against it.

“I guess it’s something like 50-50.”

The former Canberra halfback won a grand final with Melbourne in 2009, before joining Wigan where he pocketed a Challenge Cup winners medal in 2011.

The Storm held a match-eve training session in Auckland yesterday and reported no changes. The Warriors have the second best record, after Canterbury, in the NRL against the World Champions.

While this is often put down to their unpredictability, Warriors prop Sam Rapira insists the opposite is the case.

“(It’s) just applying pressure,” Rapira told NewsTalk ZB on Saturday. “When we have beaten them, we haven’t tried to score.

“It’s just come off our structure and when we’ve pushed that extra pass or that miracle ball, we end up losing.

“I think, as long as we stick to a plan and just keep in it for the full 80, we’ve got every chance of winning.

In form Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson has been identified as the danger man by Storm coach Craig Bellamy.

“If we get some number around him and put some pressure on him, hopefully he stuffs up,” Back rower Kevin Proctor said on the Storm’s website.

Teams for the match, which kicks off at Mt Smart Stadium at 12.05pm (Victorian time), are:

WARRIORS: Kevin Locke; Ngani Laumape, Dane Neilsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Elijah Taylor, Simon Mannering (c), Feleti Mateo, Ben Matulino, Nathan Friend, Sam Rapira. Res: Suaia Matagi, Jacob Lillyman, Todd Lowrie, Dominique Peyroux.

MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Justin O’Neill; Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hoffman, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith (c), Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jordan McLean, Tohu Harris, Siosaia Vave, Slade Griffin, Tim Glasby, Ben Hampton (two to be omitted).

Referees: Ben Cummins/Henry Perenara

 

Hoffman Tips Storm Team-mates As Maroons’ Next Gen

Ryan Hoffman/wikipedia
Ryan Hoffman/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE and NSW back-rower Ryan Hoffman disputes claims that Queensland is headed for an Origin slump because of its aging squad – citing two Storm team-mates as evidence of the Maroons’ continued vitality.

While Mal Meninga’s men are favourites to seal an eighth successive series victory over the Blues at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday, there is a popular argument that when the likes of Cameron Smith (30), Bill Slater (30), Cooper Cronk (29), Johnathan Thurston (30) and Justin Hodges (31) exit the scene, there will be a dearth of quality replacements.

“Everyone was saying ‘Queensland, where are they going to pick their side from?’ ten years ago,” Hoffman tells Fairfax Media.

“It was supposed to be a State Of Origin crisis. They found players. They’ll find some good players.

“There’s one like Willie Cambers, he’s ready to come in. Justin O’Neill … they’re very talented players. Willie’s been outstanding and Justin O’Neill, you need that bloke with finishing ability.

“And both of them are very talented defenders. When the time comes, they’ll be ready for Origin but hopefully it’s not for a few years yet!”

Chambers and O’Neill will form the cornerstone of the Storm side that faces its 2012 grand final opponent, Canterbury, at ANZ Stadium this afternoon.

Hoffman continued: “(Queensland have) blooded a few this year with (Chris) McQueen, (Josh) Papalii, (Daly Cherry) Evans.

“It’s good to see the talent coming through in NSW too. A bloke like Boyd Cordner, he’s 21, he looks like an Origin player already.”

Despite the Blues losing the previous clash by 20 points, Hoffman says NSW “draw our confidence from that defence in the first half.

“Queensland camped, and stayed a few nights, down our end in that first half. We defended quite well to hold them out.

“We watched some tape and found out there’s some opportunities there if we stick to what we do well. We gave them too many opportunities (though).”

Canterbury have regained the services of halfback Josh Reynolds after he was released from NSW camp on Friday, with Joel Romelo likely to miss out. It’s uncertain if Romelo will go back to the bench or be one of three players omitted from the squad named by coach Des Hasler on Tuesday.

The Storm report no changes, although it is uncertain if rookie Ben Hampton will spend more time at fullback or in the halves. Junior Sau and Tim Glasby are the likely bench omissions

Referee Gavin Badger is an injured withdrawal, with Gerard Sutton his replacement.

Teams for the match, which kicks off at ANZ Stadium at 3.05pm, are:

CANTERBURY: Ben Barba; Mitch Brown, Tim Lafai, Krisnan Inu, Sam Perrett; Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson; Greg Eastwood, Tony Williams, Frank Pritchard, Sam Kasiano, Michael Ennis (c), Aiden Tolman. Res: Dene Halatau, Josh Jackson, James Graham, Dale Finucane, Tim Browne, Martin Taupau, Joel Romelo (three to be omitted)

MELBOURNE: Justin O’Neill; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Mahe Fonua; Brett Finch, Ben Hampton; Slade Griffin, Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jordan McLean, Junior Moors, Siosaia Vave, Mitch Garbutt.

Referees: Gerard Sutton/Alan Shortall.

Filed for: SUNDAY AGE