IT HAS been a while since Craig Bellamy had seen such facial expressions and body language on his players. But with Melbourne's 46-6 thumping of Penrith yesterday snapping a five-game losing streak, he could see a bit of the old Storm swagger return.
''One thing I will say, it's a lot better feeling than it has been the last five weeks,'' he said. ''It's good to see the smiles back on the boys' faces and a bit of bounce after the game.''
But the win also had a hard edge. Bellamy is not a coach who makes a lot of changes to an established team, preferring to show loyalty to those who have done the job for him in the past. But he had made it clear in recent weeks that his patience with underperforming players was wearing thin, and his frustration increasing.
This week he made his statement, dropping Queensland state of origin representative Dane Nielsen.
''When you've lost five games [in a row] I suppose at times you've got to draw a line in the sand,'' Bellamy said. ''These guys have done a wonderful job to win nine in a row at the start of the season but that balance and that line between loyalty and actually getting out there and making sure you're doing your job, that's a tough thing sometimes.''
Storm captain Cameron Smith said Nielsen's dumping had sparked the team.
''I think everyone was put on notice that your spot in the team's not guaranteed, especially when a player of Dane's calibre is left out,'' he said. ''I think everyone's eyes were opened right up when Craig made that decision. It's up to Dane to play well and hopefully we'll see him back pretty soon.''
Meanwhile, Billy Slater said he was not at risk of further damaging his knee by playing, despite finishing the first half of yesterday's game limping.
The sight of Slater in discomfort had Bellamy sending a trainer to check on his star full-back, but Slater said the left knee, which he damaged during the second state of origin, had not overly worried him during the game.
''It's at a stage where you do get little twinges in it but you know that it will be a bit sore for two or three minutes and then it will come good,'' he said.
''I get them at training so it's just one of those things that's going to be there for a little while.
''Speaking to guys who have had the [posterior cruciate] injury before, they said you will get that bit of pain in the back [of the knee] and it's just about being confident that's it's nothing serious.
'' It just pinches in the back there but it's just part of the injury. It's not 100 per cent, but having a week off [would not make a difference], so it's about getting the strength back into it and getting the run into my legs now. It felt a lot better this week than last week.''