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Storm wary of Hasler factor

Date
Illustration: Michael Mucci.

Illustration: Michael Mucci.

MELBOURNE Storm coach Craig Bellamy has said that he does not know, or had not really thought about, what sorts of tricks Canterbury counterpart Des Hasler could pull in Sunday's grand final. But Bellamy has no doubt of the capabilities of the Bulldogs mentor.

The pair have shared an intense rivalry, splitting grand final wins in 2007 and 2008 when Hasler was the coach of Manly, although the Storm's premiership was later stripped because of salary cap rorting.

Bellamy said he admired the transformation that Hasler had made to the Bulldogs, which he took to the minor premiership in his first season at the club. In that time, he has, similar to Bellamy, changed journeymen and fringe players into quality first graders.

''I don't know what to expect from Des on Sunday, but the thing you know is he's done a wonderful thing with them this year,'' Bellamy said. ''He's obviously changed their game style without a doubt and I'd imagine they'll stick pretty much with what they've been doing [all season]. It's been very successful, they've been the best and most successful team throughout the competition this year, so he's done a wonderful job there in getting all those guys on board and believing in what he wanted to do.

''Those players have turned themselves into NRL players. Des has obviously shown them what they have to do and how they do it and they've taken the bull by the horns and done it.

''We're talking about Josh Reynolds being the Blues' five-eighth next year and I don't think he's going to be too far away from it either, and Kris Keating, he's been in it a little while but he's obviously playing the best footy he's ever played.''

But there were no surprises from either coach when naming their teams for Sunday's clash.

As expected Bellamy recalled winger Sisa Waqa, who jarred a knee during a training session last Thursday and withdrew from the team after the pre-game warm-up to the preliminary final against Manly.

Waqa trained on Tuesday and will need to complete tomorrow's session to be declared fit, with young Victorian Mahe Fonua named on an extended bench as standby.

Hasler named the same 18-man squad he has used throughout the finals series, which includes former Wests Tigers grand final winner Dene Halatau as 18th man.

Two-time Dally M medal winner Johnathan Thurston and Clive Churchill medallist Scott Prince believe the composure and experience of Melbourne's halves will get them across the line.

The Storm's dominance in that area is backed by statistics that reveal the Bulldogs' pairing of Keating and Reynolds will have to overcome 35 years of history if they are to help the Bulldogs prevail on Sunday.

Since Rod McGregor and John Bailey piloted St George past Parramatta in 1977, no halves pairing has tasted grand final success without boasting at least one international.

It puts Hasler's men at a significant disadvantage when compared to the polished duo of Cooper Cronk (14 Tests for Australia) and Gareth Widdop (eight Tests for England).

''No doubt that experience will play a part,'' Thurston said. ''Have a look at the Melbourne side and it's full of composure and experience.

''They've had players there that have played in the big games and know exactly what it takes to win big games. Certainly that's why I'm tipping them.

''It's contrasting styles though isn't it? Composed and structured from Melbourne. The other side is a more 'play what's in front of you' ad-lib style from two guys who are only rookies in their positions but have done a wonderful job.''

Prince, who won the Clive Churchill medal as a 25-year-old when he won the 2005 premiership with the Wests Tigers, said there could be advantages for young partnerships, but he backed Melbourne.

''[The Bulldogs are] just going to play what they see and enjoy the moment for what it is,'' Prince said.

''They'll go out there and hold nothing back. But it's hard to look past Melbourne.

''They've got too much big game experience, they just seem to get it done every time.''

Adding to the distractions of the week, the partners of Todd Lowrie and Widdop are each expecting to give birth to their second child within the next week, but there is no suggestion that the players will pull out of the game.

''There wasn't a great deal of belief obviously earlier this year about us making the grand final,'' joked Bellamy about the expected timing of the births.

With AAP

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