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

Bellamy’s Plan For Restructuring Origin

Melbourne - Craig BellamyBy STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE coach Craig Bellamy has proposed a radical overhaul of the State of Origin schedule which would involve games one and three being staged on a Wednesday and game two on a Sunday.

Speaking to reporters at Gosch’s Paddock yesterday during Storm training, Bellamy said the NRL had blown the chance for a big crowd at Sunday’s ANZ Stadium grand final rematch by denying his side and Canterbury access to their Origin stars.

While calls for Origin to be moved to a weekend, and all club football to be paused, are common, Bellamy had a slightly different idea.

“Maybe play the games with 10 days in between them – two Wednesday nights with a Sunday game in between them,” he said. “That wouldn’t affect the NRL and the NRL wouldn’t affect Origin.

“It seems to get tougher every year. I don’t know about physically but it seems to be more mentally draining for the players.

“I think they’ve probably missed a real good opportunity to get a good crowd there (on Sunday).

“I’d like to see the Origin stand on its own and perhaps like the … rugby union, with the Lions tour, they suspended their competition for three weeks.

“We’ve got to be looking towards that direction. I don’t know, with the TV rights, whether we can or whatever.

“I know each competition affects the other. Obviously Origin affects the NRL competition but also if you’ve got players playing … 10 days before Origin, that affects the Origin team as well, which is what happened to Greg Bird.

“I think we should be looking down the track to perhaps pinch that idea off the rugby union and suspend our competition for a few weeks and get the Origin games over in one go.

“Hopefully we can start working towards that.”

Bellamy said he remained uncertain exactly what role rookie Ben Hampton would play on Sunday – in the halves or at fullback. But he argued Canterbury custodian Ben Barba was playing as well as he did last year, when he took home the Dally M medal

“I’ve got so much admiration for Benny – I think he’s a wonderful player,” Bellamy said. “People don’t need me to tell them (that).

“There probably has been a bit of comment about they don’t think he’s been in his best form this year but I don’t think that’s right.

“I probably wasn’t aware until this week, when I watched a bit of video on the Bulldogs from the last month – I think he’s playing every bit as good as he was last year.

“Perhaps some of the other things around him are not working quite as well as they were last year.

“But jeez, he’s breaking a lot of tackles and every time he gets the footy, you’re expecting something to happen. He’s a tremendous young player and, as I said, I think he’s in as good a form as he was last year.”

Filed for: THE AGE

THE WRAP: NRL Round 15

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
ENGLAND coach Steve McNamara will today visit stricken Gareth Widdop in Robina Hospital and says its a huge blow to the host nation’s World Cup chances that the Melbourne five-eighth is out of the tournament.
Widdop was carried off in agony 51 minutes into Gold Coast’s 18-12 win over Melbourne at Skilled Park and after initial fears he could return from a dislocated hip within six weeks, Storm coach Craig Bellamy admitted late last night his season was over.
McNamara arrived in Australia on Wednesday to run the rule over selection candidates and told NRL.com after discussing the injury with Craig Bellamy in the sheds that it was a horrible thing to witness.
“It’s terrible – devastating for Gareth individually and certainly for his club Melbourne Storm who he’s been playing very well for,” McNamara said.
“And for us internationally, if it’s as bad as first feared, it’s going to be very tough for Gareth to be available and fit for the World Cup.
“But you never know. He’s obviously in very good hands there and we’ll see what happens overnight and first thing in the morning when I go and visit him in hospital.”
Bellamy told Triple M late last night: “I just spoke to the doctor, it doesn’t look good.
“It looks like he’s not going to play again this year and that’s even the best case scenario.
“It depends what the x-rays or scans show. It could be a real long-term injury. Hopefully they’ll get it (hip) back in and go from there.
“I haven’t seen too many dislocated hips in all my time in the game, maybe only two or three. He’s quite resilient too.
“I’m a little bit shattered in myself that that’s the way he’s going to finish his career with us.”
McNamara had hoped to see George Burgess play for South Sydney on Sunday but he was suspended last week for disciplinary reasons and the former St George lock instead witnessed the debut of brother Tom.
He showed up at Skilled Park last night hoping to run the rule over Widdop, who played off the bench in the 2011 Four Nations and missed the 2012 Autumn Internationals through injury.
“You could tell just by his reaction on the field that he was in severe pain,” said McNamara. “Basically, he didn’t want anyone near him at one stage.
“It was obvious it was severe but I honestly didn’t think it was going to be as bad as the doctors and medics think it’s going to be. Our thoughts are with Gareth and his family.
“I’m sure he will recover, he’ll definitely recover but it’s just a matter of how long that process is going to take.”
When Wests Tigers centre Chris Lawrence dislocated his hip in 2011, it was four months before he could even run again.
“I’ve probably not seen one like this before,” said McNamara. “It’s very difficult to do that sort of injury. “
McNamara has been criticised for not making greater use of Halifax-raised Widdop in the past. “I’ve said all along … people have made comments about ‘what’s your team going to be, why are we playing these guessing games?’
“And I’ve said ‘it will be very doubtful that we’ll get through the season without some injuries and this just goes to show that. It can happen in the blink of any eye.
“We’ve got plenty of people in that position on the field but Gareth was putting himself in a very strong position by the standard of his performances in the NRL this year.

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Gareth Widdop’s 2013 Is Over

By STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE and England five-eighth Gareth Widdop is out for the rest of the NRL season and the World Cup.

“And that’s a best case scenario,” Storm coach Craig Bellamy said late Monday after the 24 year old suffered an horrific dislocated hip the 18-12 loss to Gold Coast at Skilled Park, the world champs’ third loss of the season.

“I’m shattered for him that that’s going to be the end of his career with the Melbourne Storm.

“I just spoke to the doctor … they are not really sure how long it will take him to recover.”

England coach Steve McNamara visited the Storm dressingroom at fulltime but by then Widdop was already at nearby Robina Hospital, where McNamara will visit him tomorrow.

The St George Illawarra-bound playmaker was pushing hard for a starting berth in the World Cup after playing a bench role in the 2011 Four Nations and missing the 2012 Autumn Internationals through injury.

He punched the ground in agony after being tackled by Ryan James and Albert Kelly. As he was carried off he was seen clutching at trainers for comfort and was attended to by both club doctors before being loaded onto an ambulance.

Bellamy said: “He’s in a lot of pain. Hopefully it’s a clean dislocation and no fractures. The boys are really feeling for him at the moment.”

Despite losing Widdop in the 51st minute and being without key men Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater through Origin duty, debutant Ben Hampton’s second try narrowed the margin to two with 17 minutes remaining.

Titan Luke O’Dwyer’s final try was marred by the muffed conversion attempt which ended a run of 28 consecutive goals. “I don’t know what happened there,” a frustrated Sezer said.

Titans centre Brad Takairangi was forced off with a rib injury around the time Widdop departed. “It’s a rib cartilage, it will take a couple of days to assess it,” said coach John Cartwright.

Bellamy paid tribute to the Hampton for his toughness as much as his flair in posting a brace.

“He’s only a small kid but he’s tough,” said Bellamy. “He could have stayed down there a couple of times. They got stuck into him.

“We probably expected that and he expected that, being a small guy and it being his first grade debut. Jamal (Idris) took a bit of a liking to him early and (Dave) Taylor got stuck into him once.

“He got a couple around the head but he didn’t lay down. We don’t want our players laying down to get penalties.

“I reckon, three or four times, he could have stayed down to get penalties but he got up and played the ball so I was real proud of his effort there tonight.”

Bellamy said his side should have been more organised in their kicking game and “should have been more dangerous”.

“But their effort out there was good – all of them,” he said.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

NRL Rejects Bellamy’s Idea Of Fines For Foul Play In Origin

Melbourne - Craig BellamyBy STEVE MASCORD

NRL officials have dismissed calls by Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy for players to be fined for foul play in State of Origin matches rather than suspended.

As Storm captain Cameron Smith prepares to become only the second player in club history to reach 250 appearances tonight at AAMI Park against Cronulla, Bellamy used the example of NSW captain Paul Gallen’s absence from the match to call for a change to disciplinary processes at interstate level.

In his weekly newspaper column, Bellamy said that a suspension from Origin matches only was too harsh and instead “is it worthwhile looking at players being fined a percentage of their match payments, depending on the severity of the charge?”

But officials believe players could conceivably ‘pay’ to take out a key opponent under such system – and even that perception would damage the integrity of the competition.

“All these ideas have already been looked at a number of times,” an NRL spokesman said.

“You can find flaws in any system but the ones we have in place now are the ones most widely supported as being workable.”

The flaw in suspending players only from Origin matches is that someone could commit an act of foul play so heinous he is suspended for 10 interstate matches – but still be back playing for his club two days later.

Not only would this embarrass the code but if the player was a fringe Origin selection in the first place, he may have missed selection in subsequent games anyway so his punishment would effectively be nothing.

Smith, meanwhile, would have been a candidate to follow fellow Origin I star Jarryd Hayne onto the bench tonight if it was not a landmark game.

“We would never bench Billy (Slater) or Cooper (Cronk) after and Origin – Cameron would be the one who would have a rest,” said football manager Frank Ponissi.

“But we can hardly do that in his 250th, can we?”

Ponissi said talks with Smith over his future beyond 2014 had been put on hold until after Origin. Smith’s agent, Isaac Moses, declined to comment on the situation.

Ponissi revealed centre Justin O’Neill was about to re-sign for three years and said for tonight, Brett Finch, Tim Glasby and Kenny Bromwich would drop off the nominated seven-man bench.

The Sharks’ Origin stars, Luke Lewis and Andrew Fifita are expected to play after training yesterday in Sydney but Fifita is tipped to be benched.

With captain Gallen suspended for striking in Origin I, Chris Heighington will come into the back row while Sam Tagataese is elevated from a seven man bench to starting prop in place of Fifita.

Tyrone Peachey is expected to be 18th man. Melbourne have won six of their last seven against the Sharks.

Teams for the match, which kicks off at AAMI Park at 6.35pm tonight, are:

MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Maurice Blair, Will Chambers, Justin O’Neill; Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hoffman, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith (c), Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jason Ryles, Tohu Harris, Junior Moors, Jordan McLean.

CRONULLA: Michael Gordon; Sosaia Feki, Ben Pomeroy, Jonathan Wright, Beau Ryan; Todd Carney, Jeff Robson; Wade Graham, Chris Heighington, Luke Lewis, Ben Ross, John Morris, Sam Tagataese. Res: Andrew Fifita, Jayson Bukuya, Isaac de Gois, Anthony Tupou.

Referees: Ashley Klein/Chris James.

Filed for: SUNDAY AGE

Cameron Smith: You Can Still Get Away With More In Origin

Melbourne - Cameron SmithBy STEVE MASCORD

YOU can still get away with more in State of Origin than in NRL games, according to Melbourne and Queensland captain Cameron Smith

But the Australia hooker admitted on the eve of tonight’s opening NSW v Queensland game at ANZ Stadium he was unsure of exactly how much more.

“I think to some degree it’s still the case,” said Smith, when asked about the traditional perception that the interstate series is played under an unofficial second set of rules.

“But there’s a fairly strict rule on the shoulder charge … now and it’s going to be interesting on the ruck interpretation as well.

“We’ve seen it’s been a lot faster at club level this year. We’re just going to have to figure out the referees in the first 10 minutes or so, to see what they’re allowing in the ruck.

“State of Origin, traditionally, is a bit slower. They allow a bit more work on the ground. “

Smith indicated he wanted match officials to be less pedantic than they are at club level. “I think State of Origin’s a better game when there’s a bit more flowing footy,” he said.

“As long as there’s nothing illegal (where they say) ‘let’s sweep that under the carpet’.

“I think the fans would like to see a free-flowing game, rather than the ref pulling his whistle out every two minutes.”

Smith described last year’s performance by the Maroons as the worst in their seven-year winning run.

He said the effect of a pending assault investigation on interchange forward Ben Te’o remained somewhat unknown.

“There’s no way any of us are going to know how he’s going to go out and play,” Smith said.

“But from as far as I’ve seen this week, he’s a really good place. He’s had the opportunity to get back down to Sydney, he’s gone to his house, he’s settled in, it’s been a really good week for him.

“It’s been a nice distraction for him. I think it’s been good for him to get into camp and get his head on his preparation for this game.”

Speaking about Queensland’s likely approach, Smith said: “We just want to be careful with the width that we play and the style of footy we play.

“We don’t want to be too expansive in game one and turn the ball over and get put into touch.”

Meanwhile, Storm coach Craig Bellamy yesterday admitted that backing up after a long break has been a problem at the club for “18 months, even two years”.

He said on Sunday night he expected Cronulla five-eighth Todd Carney to be “out to prove a few people wrong over his Origin non-selection” when the sides clash at AAMI Park.

Bellamy said he was “a bit surprised” by Carney’s snubbing but “there’s no-one better than Laurie Daley to pick the NSW five-eighth”.

The coach said he would have little hesitation in resting Origin players who pulled up sore, and stressed he was eager to give stalwart Brett Finch a game somewhere.

“(The season) has been frustrating for him but it’s been frustrating for me too because he definitely deserves a place there,” Bellamy said.

“Last year, I don’t think the non-Origin players stepped up as well as they usually do. That was definitely an issue.”

Filed for: THE AGE

Bellamy Slams Storm

Melbourne - Craig BellamyBy STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE are only playing football when they are in trouble and defending poorly on both sides of the field, according to their coach Craig Bellamy.

Bellamy has backed captain Cameron Smith’s criticism of the Storm’s attitude in the wake of the streak-ending 24-20 loss to Canberra but also pointed to technical problems.

The Melbourne threequarterline missed a combined 15 tackles at AAMI Park on Saturday

“You don’t mind getting beaten but I just thought we’ve been asking for that result for a few weeks.” Bellamy says.

“Our last couple of games, particularly at home, we’ve only started playing with a bit of enthusiasm, determination and commitment when we’ve got behind.

“That’s been a bit of a trend … we ran out of luck.

“We’ve got to make sure we get some 80 minute performances and not just start playing when we’re in trouble.”

Problem two: giving away cheap penalties. “We had Canberra down on their tryline three times in the first half and gave away a cheap penalty, just for not being back the 10 or going too early,” he said.

“That’s not what we do. We let them off the hook, we didn’t build any pressure.”

Problem three: defence. “That’s one thing. Some of their tries out wide … I don’t know whether soft’s the right word but they were too easy.

“We certainly weren’t working together, on the left edge in the first half and the right edge in the second.

“Having said that, it’s not an easy position to defend in – the centres and the wing. You’ve always got decisions to make. The big guys in the middle, it’s easier, they’ve got to tackle someone running straight at them.

“When you make decisions you’ve got to make them together and we certainly didn’t do that so it’s something we’ll be working on.’

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK