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Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has conceded that it may have been an error of judgement not to take off Ryan Papenhuyzen before the superstar fullback suffered a hamstring injury likely to sideline him for several weeks.
The ladder-leading Storm will go into Saturday's blockbuster clash with second-placed Penrith without injured duo Papenhuyzen and Reimis Smith, following Sunday's crushing 42-6 win against St George Illawarra.
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Both backs were injured in the 36-point win and will each spend time on the sideline after Melbourne improved their record to 8-1 for the season to leapfrog defending premiers Penrith into top spot.
Papenhuyzen scored two tries before exiting the AAMI Park field early in the second half, picking up the hamstring injury after bursting onto a Nick Meaney kick and planting the ball down for his second.
The 23-year-old fullback is expected to miss around two weeks, with the Storm confirming it was a lower-grade tear.
Papenhuyzen also picked up a knee injury in the first half of the contest, with Bellamy admitting that he probably should have taken his star off at the time.
"If I'd known what I know now, I definitely would have taken him off, we knew he wasn't gonna be involved like he is with the ball, but we were only 12 points up, (we thought he could) just sort our defence," he told reporters.
"I'm not quite sure, with that knee, even if he hadn't got the hamstring whether he'd be playing the next couple of weeks anyway.
"So he's got a couple of injuries to deal with, so we have to find ourselves a fullback for the next couple of weeks."
That fill-in fullback won't be Smith, who's set for 10 to 12 weeks out after tearing his pectoral muscle in the opening stages.
The injuries didn't stop the Storm producing another dominant performance, they have outscored their last three opponents by a combined 144 points after 70-10 and 50-2 floggings of the Warriors and Newcastle in their previous two outings.
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Bellamy credited his side's fight despite having to call upon backup players for much of the contest.
"I don't think we played our best the whole 80 minutes .... but they really dug in," he said.
"Our defensive performance was as good as it's been all year, so for me that that's a really good sign.
"When you are doing it tough and you get a couple of injuries, how you apply yourself to defence, if you do that pretty well that's a really good sign."
It was the 16th consecutive time the Storm have beaten the Dragons in Melbourne, marking milestones for Kenny Bromwich (200th game) and Nelson Asofa-Solomona (150th) with victory.
Asofa-Solomona, who impressed throughout with 77 post-contact metres thanks to some brutal runs, found a try on 67 minutes and was one of 11 Storm players to run for more than 100m.
The Dragons dug in early but couldn't score points, with Jack De Belin's consolation try coming far too late.
The first half was a decent game of footy ... the second half, obviously they just got on a roll and we weren't good enough defensively," Dragons coach Anthony Griffin said.
"If we could have got to 12-6 at any stage, it wasn't a matter of getting it quickly, we could have just kept a cycle going on there, but we didn't earn the right to defensively.
"They're a really good side and scored some freakish tries, but that's what they do if you let them get down on your end too much."
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