Storm: Scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours
Melbourne Storm has reached out to another NRL club about staging scratch matches for their reserve grade players in the absence of a second-tier competition.
The impact of COVID-19 has meant both the Queensland Cup and NSW Cup will not operate this season.
Trying to find games for players who miss selection in the NRL side has become a priority ahead of the resumption of play on May 28.
"It's really tough on them, but we've spoken to another club about perhaps having our guys that are leftover play against their guys," Storm coach Craig Bellamy told the Sunday Herald Sun.
"I'm not quite sure how often we'd be able to do it and the travel will obviously be a bit of an issue.
"But if we can do something to help those guys play a little bit of footy, it would be a real shot in the arm for them.
"They (the other NRL club) are really keen to do it too and we really want to do it because we don't want players having no games to look forward to.
"Hopefully we can organise something there."
Even if that cannot be arranged, Bellamy has told his squad of 32 they'll need to be ready to play at any time in what will be a tumultuous season.
"With the rules in the place we're allowed to pick 20 players for each match and if someone has a runny nose or a headache, they're just going to be ruled out straight away," Bellamy said.
"So I think all the teams will probably use more players throughout the year then we ever have."
The Storm supercoach praised his players for overwhelmingly returning to the club in good condition after the NRL shutdown following Round 2.
They have completed their first week back at AAMI Park after spending time across the border in Albury.
Bellamy admitted life back home under strict medical protocols have been an adjustment.
"It is strange and so are the things we're doing now," he said.
"We're getting temperature checks as we come in and you've got to take your shoes off out the front and put another pair of shoes on.
"It has been challenging without a doubt, but we just have to do the best we can and hopefully we can have a decent start when the season reopens."
Storm's season resumes against Canberra and then South Sydney at a to-be-determined venue.
SLATER STILL A WEAPON FOR STORM
Melbourne Storm legend Billy Slater looms as his club's behind-the-scenes weapon for the reborn NRL season after increasing his coaching output despite being isolated from the players.
After retiring at the end of the of the 2018 season Slater, arguably the greatest fullback of the modern era and maybe ever, was brought on in a part-time coaching role to usher through the club's next generation.
But COVID-19 protocols allow for just 18 football staff to interact with players in the "clean zones" at AAMI Park, and Slater didn't make the list.
Visitors are also banned from player's homes and they are unable to train outside their established training venues.
But Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen revealed he was able to have a special session with Slater before the clubs went in to biosecurity lockdown.
Papenhuyzen, who has made the No.1 jersey his own at Storm, said Slater also remained in regular communication, doing hours of video work to keep the Melbourne backline one-step ahead of the rest.
"I can't speak highly enough for how good he has been in this period. We did a session together a week before we came back to full training and it was great to get that," Papenhuyzen told the Sunday Herald Sun.
"He's still looking for the best way to do things, to innovate, so to have access to him has been unreal. He loves his footy. He's watched the first two rounds as many times as the coaches.
"He still corresponds with us. He Zooms in on our meetings and then will call us individually, being a mentor and coach, making sure our heads are on.
"He's such an advantage for us, doing things maybe other teams haven't been in isolation. He's been massive and I'm pretty happy to have him in my corner."
Papenhuyzen, 21, said having the likes of Slater on board, plus the leadership of captain Cameron Smith and coach Craig Bellamy, had been crucial in navigating the uncertain environment.
"They are the greatest players to play the game in my opinion, but how willing they are to share knowledge makes us better players. They just want to make us better," he said.
"And Craig has not dropped his standards one bit. He's been the driver to make sure we start the season well."
Originally published as Storm: Scratch our back, we'll scratch yours