Aitken learning from the best for final - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Aitken learning from the best for final

By Steve Jancetic and Guy Hand 03/10/2008 01:38:30 PM Comments (0)

Craig Bellamy is not expecting Russell Aitken to be another Cameron Smith in Sunday's NRL grand final.

But that hasn't stopped the Melbourne coach from getting his suspended skipper to pass on everything he knows to the stand-in hooker.

Aitken will play just his 17th top grade game on Sunday in a position even he admits is largely foreign to him, forcing Bellamy to think outside the square when it came to finding someone to fill the No.9 jumper for last week's preliminary final against Cronulla.

The halfback/five-eighth struggled in the early going against the Sharks, but so happy was Bellamy with his performance he resisted the urge to move veteran Matt Geyer into dummy-half for the grand final against Manly.

"Russell's a five-eighth basically. He's done some training with us as a dummy-half but not on a prolonged time frame I suppose," Bellamy said.

"It was always going to be tough for him going in because we didn't really know he was going to be playing until Wednesday night (last week)," Bellamy said.

"He was a little bit hard on himself, to be quite honest, about how he did. But he did a really good job and he'll be even better this week just having that experience."

Plus he would have had another week working with the best No.9 in the game, with Smith putting the disappointment of his grand final suspension to one side as he tutored Aitken in the finer points of the role.

"(Smith's) been helping Russell there a little bit. He's done a little bit of video work with him and sort of kept bit of a close eye on him at training, just given him a couple of tips," Bellamy said.

"We're not going to change Russell a whole heap but there's just a couple of little things there that he's practiced during the week that might help us on Sunday."

When Aitken was rescued from a job making bathroomware in Sydney's west to come to the Storm in 2007, he was seen as the man to replace long-term five-eighth Scott Hill.

Those plans were dashed when Greg Inglis was moved closer to the action at the start of last year, Aitken's opportunities in the top grade limited to spot appearances filling in for unavailable players.

And leading into the biggest game of his life, the 23-year-old is again headed for rugby league oblivion, with no contract on the table for 2009.

But all that can wait until after Sunday afternoon.

"It's a bit surreal to get the opportunity," Aitken said.

"I found out early last week (before the Cronulla game) I might get the opportunity, but to get the chance to play in a grand final is just amazing.

"It's all happening a bit quick but now it's finally happening.

"Since you're a kid, you pretty much dream of playing in a grand final and a month ago, I wouldn't have given myself any chance."

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