By STEVE MASCORD
MELBOURNE Storm have not spoken to any potential replacements for departing five-eighth Gareth Widdop next year and are seriously considering offering Brett Finch another season.
That was the news from club football manager Frank Ponissi on the eve of the AAMI Park clash with Brisbane and in the wake of Finch telling reporters he was uncertain if he would play on beyond 2013.
Widdop joins St George Illawarra next season but despite a dislocated hip, yesterday tweeted that he would not require surgery and was on the road to recovery.
“We have not even spoken to another five-eighth about next season,” Ponissi told Fairfax Media.
“The only halves we have on contract for next year are Cooper Cronk and Ben Hampton. You cannot go through a season with just two halves.
“We’ll need a five-eighth, we’ll need maybe four halves. Finchy is in our thoughts and we’ve just said we’ll let him setting back into first grade and go from there.”
After returning to the world champions from Wigan this year, Finch has spent most of his time in the NSW Cup before – predictably – being called upon during the Origin period.
But Widdop’s injury means he is going to see more first grade than anticipated and has a golden opportunity to press for a contract renewal – if that’s what he wants.
“If I don’t perform, someone else will come in and do the job,” he said.
“I thought I probably would have played a bit more than I did early but that’s the way it panned out.
“I haven’t made a decision. I’ll probably make a decision in the next month, when I get a clearer decision of how I’m going. I don’t even know if the club wants to keep me for next year, we haven’t spoken about it.
“There’s some good young kids there in Ben Hampton and Kurt Mann and I don’t want to be stopping them from coming through.”
Finch said Hampton could be Widdop’s long term replacement. “I think he could definitely be a five-eighth,” he said. “In juniors he was five-eighth and he’s also been a halfback as well.
“Him and Kurt Mann will be the players the club is looking at next pre-season.”
Finch had the chance to join Souths this year but has no regrets about not being on board with the runaway competition leaders.
“We’re not too far behind, I came to the defending premiers,” he said. “No, I wanted to come back to Melbourne.
“My decision, also, was about my feeling for the club. I want to help the club succeed, in whatever role that is. I want to be part of the club for as long as possible, whether (or not) I play again next year…
“I’ve played with enough clubs. I don’t want to play for anymore.”
His decision to give up a key role in England and return to Australia as a support player has been followed by London captain Craig Gower and Hull KR skipper Michael Dobson (both to Newcastle) in recent weeks.
“I really enjoyed my two years in Super League … but obviously it’s not as strong as the NRL,” Finch commented. “The bottom half of the competition’s pretty weak and the NRL’s getting stronger now, with the money in the game.”
The Broncos arrived in Melbourne on Thursday after spending the week in Auckland. A club spokesman said prop Ben Hannant (calf) would not be a late inclusion.
Teams for the match, which kicks off at AAMI Park at 7.40pm on Friday, are:
MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Justin O’Neill; Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hoffman, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith (c), Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jordon McLean, Tohu Harris, Siosaia Vave, Slade Griffin, Junior Moors, Tim Glasby, Ben Hampton (three to be omitted).
BRISBANE: Corey Norman; Josh Hoffman, Justin Hodges, Jack Reed, Lachlan Maranta; Scott Prince, Peter Wallace; Corey Parker, Matt Gillett, Alex Glen, Josh McGuire, Andrew McCullough, Sam Thaiday. Res: Ben Hunt, Dave Hala, Mitchell Dodds, Dunamis Lui.
Filed for: THE AGE