No Smith means new game-plan: Storm - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

No Smith means new game-plan: Storm

By David Beniuk 25/09/2008 05:42:59 PM Comments (0)

Melbourne have conceded they will have to change the way they play in Friday night's NRL preliminary final against Cronulla as a result of captain Cameron Smith's suspension.

Smith, who was banned for two matches for a grapple tackle, is a massive cog in the well-oiled Storm machinery and his absence will present a sizeable headache for coach Craig Bellamy ahead of the Sydney Football Stadium grand final qualifier against the Sharks.

Fix-it man Matt Geyer, fullback Billy Slater and fringe first-grader Russell Aitken are all possibilities to fill in at hooker.

But moving Geyer from the centres or Slater, who has been in scintillating form all year, would require major re-shuffles of the backline in a side which has already lost half its starting forward pack.

As well as Smith, second-rower Jeremy Smith is serving a suspension for the same wrestling tackle on Brisbane's Sam Thaiday, while Test second-rower Ryan Hoffman will miss the business end of the season with an ankle injury.

The Storm all-but went to ground on Thursday following the judiciary verdict, shunning the media at Sydney airport and refusing to allow any player or member of the coaching staff to speak publicly.

Football manager Frank Ponissi eventually fronted the cameras but was quick to make it clear there would be no comment on the judiciary's decision.

"I'm here to talk about the game between ourselves and Cronulla here tomorrow evening. In terms of the Cameron Smith issue, the club will be making a statement after the match tomorrow evening," Ponissi said.

"At this stage we're going to put all our energies and thoughts into the match tomorrow night."

But Ponissi did admit their would be changes to the Storm's game without the Test captain.

"There has to be. Cameron Smith is a unique player," he said.

"Whoever we throw in is not going to be a Cameron Smith so we've got to make some minor adjustments certainly in the way we play.

"The kicking game, defence to a certain degree but probably the way that we play out of dummy-half, there'll have to be some slight changes.

"There's a few little things the coaching staff and the leadership group need to speak about."

Smith's hallmark has been his ability to dominate the middle third of the field but Ponissi said that had come on the back of the whole team's performance.

"Losing a player like Cameron, that's his strength in that area but at the same time his strength's also because he's got some fantastic players around him, a terrific pack of forwards," he said.

"So I think it would be doing injustice by saying we're changing our game totally because Cameron Smith's out. I think we have to tinker with our game but I wouldn't go to say we'd change it dramatically."

Asked whether the grapple tackle saga had galvanised the Storm players, Ponissi said: "It certainly has helped in that department."

But he added that didn't mean it was a case of the Storm against the world.

"The thing everyone's probably forgetting is this is a grand final qualifier, you don't need any more motivation than that.

"We want to play in a grand final so all the other things might be added bonuses but at the end of the day it's irrespective of what's happened this week."

Halfback Cooper Cronk is likely to take over the captaincy from Smith.

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