Brad Fittler has urged Craig Bellamy to start Harry Grant in the Melbourne Storm's preliminary final clash with Penrith on Friday night, rather than bringing him off the bench. Grant has been named at No.9 for the grand final qualifier, but could find himself watching the opening exchanges from the sideline.
Bellamy has opted to start Grant on the bench a number of times in recent months in an attempt to shield him from the rough and tumble of the opening few minutes. Opposition sides normally make Grant do a lot of work defensively at the start of games, sapping his energy and blunting some of his attacking prowess.
'CAN'T DO THAT': Real reason NRL and Channel 9 dudded Warriors fans
With the Queensland hooker coming onto the field after around 20 minutes, he is usually a strike weapon around the ruck and can target the tiring middle forwards. Whether Grant or Tyran Wishart starts at hooker against the Panthers remains to be seen, but NSW coach Fittler certainly knows which way he would go.
"I think he's got to play the whole game," Fittler said on the 'Freddy and the Eighth' podcast. "I think they need to throw them (starters) all out there, and back their bench. They looked very unorganised (against the Roosters last week) in the absence of Jahrome Hughes. If they are chasing points (against Penrith) I think they're in trouble. "
Phil Gould agreed, saying Grant starting gives the Storm a better chance of striking early against the Panthers. Halfback Hughes missed the semi-final against the Roosters, but Bellamy revealed on Thursday he's "really confident" the Kiwi will be right to face Penrith.
"We'll have to see how he pulls up but he got through most of [training] so we're really confident he'll be OK," Bellamy said. "He didn't do all of it but we didn't plan for him to do all of it, either. All of it we planned for him to do he did."
Melbourne Storm to test Jarome Luai's shoulder
The Panthers will welcome back five-eighth Jarome Luai, who will play his first game in five weeks after dislocating his shoulder. Bellamy was happy to admit the Storm forwards would target Luai and test his shoulder early.
"We'd like to see him make a few tackles, so we'll see how that goes," the Storm coach said. "We're not going to take a big risk (with Hughes), and I imagine Penrith wouldn't take a big risk either.
"You don't want those guys starting the game and getting hurt in the first five or 10 minutes, that puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the team, especially in the positions that they play. We're not going to play Jahrome if we don't think he's very, very close to top fitness, and I imagine Penrith will do the same (with Luai)."
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said about Luai: "We've seen a lot of guys at this club do some pretty amazing things. From the moment we got the information (about the shoulder injury) the medical staff were very confident.
"He's just put his head down, worked very hard and ticked every box every week. We just had to get to the game, which we've been able to do. It's all systems go."
In other good news for Penrith, centre Izack Tago has been cleared to return from a pectoral strain, while halfback Nathan Cleary is in no doubt despite injuring his finger at training. A win over the Storm would put the Panthers one step closer to becoming the first time in the NRL era to win three-consecutive premierships.
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.