Storm's Cronk to start, Slater in doubt - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Storm's Cronk to start, Slater in doubt

By Melissa Woods 26/03/2010 03:52:33 PM Comments (0)

Melbourne have welcomed back one star in Cooper Cronk but could lose another with fullback Billy Slater missing the flight to Sydney ahead of their NRL match against Penrith on Saturday.

Cronk will play his first game of the season after undergoing groin surgery, while Slater missed the Storm's final training session and their plane due to sinus problems.

Slater came under fire this week after taunting Newcastle's Cory Paterson over his battle with depression during their match, and made public and private apologies.

The Test fullback, who has a history of sinus problems, is booked on a morning flight on Saturday, however 21-year-old Gareth Widdop is on stand-by for his NRL debut should he fail to recover.

Coach Craig Bellamy wasn't concerned about having to call on Widdop, who moved to Melbourne from England when he was 16, and trained with the top squad on Friday.

"Billy got sick yesterday so hopefully he can shake that and travel up tomorrow, if he's going to play," Bellamy said.

"But Gareth's been playing really well for us and he was very close to getting into the world club challenge.

"We think he's ready to go into first grade ... we'd prefer it was in a different situation but we think he's up to it."

Cronk looked sharp in their final hit-out and is set to start against the Panthers in their twilight match at CUA Stadium although Bellamy didn't expect him to be at his best.

"He'll be a little bit rusty and under-done match fitness wise because he missed a lot of our pre-season so I'm not quite sure he'll get through 80 minutes flat-out.

"But he's got a bit of experience so he'll be able to take it easy at the appropriate times."

After two hard-fought wins the Storm are looking to improve their ball control but Bellamy was otherwise satisfied with their progress.

Game-breaking centre Greg Inglis will celebrate 100 NRL games and the coach expected the 23-year-old to do it in style after two quiet matches.

"That's a big milestone for any player but it sort of pales into insignificance when you realise what he's done.

"He's won Golden Boots and Clive Churchill medals and man of the matches in Origins and for Australia and he's won premierships so it doesn't seem such an important milestone after what he's done.

"But it is an important milestone to him and he made that point this morning.

"He loves playing for this club and he loves playing with the players who play here so I'm sure we can look forward to seeing something special from him."

Meanwhile, the Panthers, who have started the season with one win and one loss, will start utility Luke Lewis at five-eighth after Travis Burns was ruled out with a knee injury.

Former Test representative Trent Waterhouse will return from a quad injury in the second-row.

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