Melbourne Storm’s rise to the top of the NRL ladder has been built on stability but those foundations may be rocked with halfback options Cooper Cronk and Ben Hampton both in doubt for Saturday’s clash with Manly.
The Storm have really only suffered one serious injury in the opening seven rounds of the competition, with star fullback Billy Slater suffering a shoulder injury.
On that note Slater made a surprise appearance at training ahead of their Anzac Day clash at AAMI Park, raising hopes he may return earlier than the projected four to six weeks.
Coach Craig Bellamy said he “couldn’t imagine” Slater being available this round.
Slater may have been up and about but the Storm were forced to train on Wednesday without a halfback – Cronk ill with the flu and his first-choice replacement Hampton suffering a hamstring problem.
“He’s still not real well,” Bellamy said of Cronk.
“We expect him to play on Saturday but at this stage missing two days training is not ideal, so hopefully he will be right for Friday’s session.”
Hampton lost a pre-season tussle to Blake Green for the five-eighth jersey but has tried to fight his way back in through a strong showing in in the Storm’s feeder side.
“Ben’s been in tremendous form but he’s not training today either so we’re down on halfbacks for our training session, ” Bellamy said.
“Hopefully he will be OK if Cooper doesn’t make it.
“They tell me his hamstring soreness is nothing serious and he will be right for the weekend.”
While Manly is in last place and the Storm first, Bellamy said the Sea Eagles always rose for the challenge – proven in their two-point victory over Melbourne in round two.
“A few weeks ago they were in turmoil and we went up there and they put us to the sword,” Bellamy said.
“Any Manly team you play – we’ve had so many battles through the years – we know it’s going to be another one on Saturday night.”