Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has admitted his side have struggled to maintain their high standards during a season which has been plagued by injuries.
Throughout the campaign, the Storm have been without a number of their key personnel in their backline, while two long-term lay-offs to Ryan Papenhuyzen has threatened to derail their year.
“We’ve felt the pinch for a bit to be quite honest,” Bellamy said when addressing the media ahead of his side’s blockbuster meeting with Penrith on Thursday.
The coach will be without half of his original spine which started the year, with Papenhuyzen out for the season after suffering a horrific knee injury and Jahrome Hughes succumbing to a shoulder injury in their last start victory over the Gold Coast Titans.
“That happens in this game- it’s a body contact sport, so you get injuries,” Bellamy said.
“When someone misses out, someone else gets a chance. That’s the way we like to look at it.”
Against the Titans last week, Bellamy shuffled his players around to accommodate for an injury to makeshift fullback Nick Meaney.
His decision to start Cameron Munster in the No.1 jersey proved an inspired one, with the Queenslander going on to notch a hattrick in a standout performance.
Yet Meaney’s return to action, coupled with Hughes’ absence, means Munster has been moved back to his regular position in the halves.
He will partner Cooper Johns, who had one of his best games in a Melbourne jersey starting alongside Hughes last week. The rookie will have to adjust on the fly though, with the two playmakers possessing very different styles of play.
“He [Johns] will have to change a little bit,” Bellamy conceded.
“With Munster, he likes to drift every now and then and go to places some other halves probably don’t go.
“So, Cooper will hopefully do a little bit more of what Hughsie does with his role and he should be able to take that on this week.”
After enduring a horror-run where they lost four games in a row, the Storm have been able to turn their fortunes around in the past fortnight with wins over the Warriors and Titans.
A much tougher test lies ahead for them when they travel to the foot of the mountains to take on Penrith, even though they are going through a challenging period themselves.
However, Bellamy wasn’t taking the opposition lightly despite their halves pairing of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai missing the clash.
The Panthers backline is still intact and is a major source of their success. In fact, their fullback, wingers and centres have combined for an average of 819 running metres per game, which is more than any other team in the competition.
This is a major area where the Storm have suffered, with injuries to their outside backs including Papenhuyzen, Reimis Smith and Xavier Coates leading to them notching the second-lowest number of combined running metres in the league through their backline (560m).
Melbourne have a dreadful recent record against Ivan Cleary's men having lost five of their last eight matches against the Panthers.
With a place in the top four up for grasps, the Storm must break the current hold Penrith has over them, while aiming to win two consecutive matches on the road for the first time since May.
“They’ve been the dominant side for probably the last three years,” Bellamy said.
“A lot of that would have come from the hard work and planning for however many years before. They’ve built their depth up and got a huge catchment area of juniors…they’re doing a great job.
“But we’re just trying to concentrate on playing our best footy tomorrow night and seeing where that takes us.”