Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy says it will be business as usual without star fullback Billy Slater, with the club realising some time ago his shoulder wouldn’t last the NRL season.
The Storm host competition frontrunners Brisbane at AAMI Park on Sunday minus Slater, who will undergo surgery next week.
Bellamy says he wasn’t surprised by this week’s season-ending prognosis for his Test custodian.
“I think we were all aware two or three weeks ago that it (surgery) was going to be sooner rather than later,” Bellamy said on Saturday.
“I think Billy was in a little bit of denial the first couple of weeks.
“He was trying to prepare to play and doing all his rehab but you could just tell the way he was training and the look on his face when you asked him about it.
“He was even more inconvenienced than what everybody else thought.”
Slater suffered the injury in round five against the Warriors and has only managed seven games for the season.
Bellamy feels confident they can cover the loss with the side sitting fourth heading into this round despite Slater’s limited playing time.
Cameron Munster has played six games in his absence with Bellamy saying there’s an opportunity for the 20-year-old to lock down the role.
But it’s far from assured, with Kurt Mann and Ben Hampton also able contenders for the No.1 jersey.
“He needs to keep his eye on the ball, so he needs to keep preparing well and not thinking it’s his spot because it’s not,” Bellamy said.
“At the moment he’s still got to earn it.”
Bellamy rates the Broncos as the form team, saying master coach Wayne Bennett has given his side an edge.
“I think a few interpretations of the rules that have been changed this year, they have taken advantage of that,” Bellamy said.
“The quicker play-the-ball and releasing on the ground straight away, I think they’ve handled that better than any other team.
“That’s not a criticism, that’s praise because I think they’ve worked it out quicker than anybody else and that is a big reason why they are playing well.”
Meanwhile, Origin veterans Corey Parker and Justin Hodges have been ruled out of Brisbane’s side.
Sam Thaiday and Darius Boyd are expected to play having remained in Melbourne following the Maroons’ game two loss.