"I was asked recently at the NRL about changes I see in the game ... the change I'm seeing now is the deliberate penalties that teams are giving away": Knights Coach Wayne Bennett. Photo: Simone De Peak
Melbourne say they are playing better at this stage of the season than a year ago, when the Storm went on to win a premiership, but rival Wayne Bennett has accused them of tactics ''not in the spirit of the game''.
Craig Bellamy said after Sunday's 23-10 success against Newcastle at Hunter Stadium that the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney would have a significant advantage in finishing in the top two under the NRL's revamped finals system, something he said was probably beyond the Storm's reach.
But the third consecutive Storm win was marred by an incident that many thought should have resulted in halfback Cooper Cronk being sent to the sin bin, for taking out Darius Boyd as he pursued a kick in the 54th minute.
"I think in this competition and the way it's set up, finishing in the top two is a big advantage, rather than finishing third or fourth": Storm coach Craig Bellamy. Photo: Getty Images
Veteran coach Bennett said: ''I was asked recently at the NRL about changes I see in the game … the change I'm seeing now is the deliberate penalties that teams are giving away.
''Certainly the top teams … Melbourne did it today and the Roosters did it when we played them here as well. It buys people time. That's why people do it.
''It's not in the spirit of the game as far as I'm concerned. The only way they'll stop it is sin-binning players.''
When hooker Cameron Smith was asked on Triple M if the Storm were playing better than a year ago, he said: ''I'd agree with that … we've played three pretty good teams in the last three weeks and come away with wins.''
Bellamy said that while Smith might be right, they would not repeat their second-place finish of last year and that would make their play-off assignment tougher.
''We probably are [playing better] but, having said that, there are different teams up the top of the ladder,'' Bellamy said.
''I think in this competition and the way it's set up, finishing in the top two is a big advantage, rather than finishing third or fourth.
''[But] that might be out of our range a little bit now, to be quite honest. If we have to come from third or fourth, so be it. We'll do our best.''
Bellamy said he would have had no complaints if referees Jared Maxwell and Brett Suttor had dispatched Cronk for the indiscretion, which occurred when Melbourne led 10-8. There was a penalty, which tied up the ledger until the 62nd minute.
Knights star Kurt Gidley said: ''We have these knee-jerk reactions, sending people to the sin bin for punching. Let's use the sin bin for what it's meant for. With a professional foul, sending someone to the sin bin is the only way they'll learn.''
Bennett said: ''There's no doubt he should have been sent to the sin bin … I don't know what the sin bin's for any more because no one ever goes to it.''
Newcastle had the best of early play, posting tries to centre B.J. Leilua (25th minute) and Akuila Uate (32) before Melbourne pegged one back on half-time thanks to rookie Jordan McLean.
Fullback Billy Slater broke the 10-10 deadlock when he flew high to field Cronk's kick. The No.7 added a field goal and and prop Bryan Norrie scored on the bell.
The match was watched by a crowd of 26,822.