It was only a few weeks ago that Craig Bellamy made a stunning admission, telling reporters he was “not confident” Melbourne could turn a worrying form slump around.
The Storm had slumped to a fourth-straight loss for the first time in seven years and even Bellamy was unsure if this champion team had it in them to rise to the top again.
It was on the playing group to prove Bellamy wrong and while wins over the Warriors and Titans were certainly needed, Thursday night was their chance to make a statement.
Stream every game of every round of the 2022 NRL Telstra Premiership Season Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
Sure, the Panthers were severely understrength but so were the Storm and yet a defensive masterclass paved the way for a 16-0 shutout victory over the defending premiers.
Now in a strong position to wrap up a spot in the top four, Melbourne is right back in the title picture and Bellamy has a secret weapon up his sleeve that keeps everyone guessing.
Even Cameron Smith was fooled on Thursday morning, questioning why playmaker Cameron Munster had been moved back to the halves after a starring game at fullback the week prior.
“I was a little bit surprised, I thought he may have kept him there,” Smith admitted on SEN 1170 Radio.
Bellamy did keep Munster there, although it was not necessarily always going to be the plan as the Storm coach revealed in his post-game press conference on Thursday night.
“It worked pretty well last week as well,” Bellamy said.
“We weren’t quite sure earlier in the week on which way we were going to go. We trained both of them there. I think we will probably look at it on our opposition and what we think the best way to use Munster and the best way to use Nick and their strengths [is].
“I’m not quite sure we’ll actually stick with Munster at fullback all the time but we need to have a bit of a chat about that with the leaders, obviously our halves and see what the coaches think.”
MORE NRL NEWS
BIG HITS: Munster ignites Storm, Smith’s solo try stuns, Panthers rue missed chances
ROSTER TROUBLE: Knights are ‘rudderless’ after huge blunder but can be saved
That in itself spells trouble for the rest of the competition.
It is already hard enough to defend Munster but not knowing where exactly he will be playing in the lead-up to a game makes that tougher, you only have to ask Ivan Cleary.
The Panthers coach was asked after Thursday’s defeat “what sort of threat” Munster posed at fullback, to which Cleary could only laugh.
“A lot,” he said.
“I don’t know whether fullback is much different. I suppose he doesn’t have all the defensive work to do. He’s just playing really well, definitely dangerous and he still seemed to come up with big plays when they needed it tonight. He’s definitely a threat.”
There was a similar response from Panthers great Greg Alexander, who was asked pre-game by Jess Yates which Melbourne player he was most worried about.
“Well, Cameron Munster, Cameron Munster and Cameron Munster,” Alexander replied.
That and “who ended up playing fullback”.
Unfortunately for Alexander and the Panthers, that also ended up being Munster and he backed up last week’s three-try effort against the Titans with another impressive display.
Munster ran for 142 meters at the back to go with five tackle busts two linebreak assists and also kicked for 537, filling the void left by halfback Jahrome Hughes.
PAUL GREEN NEWS
OBITUARY: 167cm great who became a giant and the gamble that set him up for glory
‘FUNNY, CARING’: Legends’ emotional tribute to ‘wonderful friend’ Green
“It’s been handy this year,” Bellamy said of having the option of playing Munster at fullback.
“The last few months or so with Paps being out and Nick missing a week. He’s certainly a different character Munster but he’s a great guy to have around the club and obviously one hell of a player.
“We’re fairly lucky to have him. The other big thing about him is he’s such a competitor. He just competes in everything at training and in games. That’s what makes him what he is.”
Bellamy admitted there may have been a point earlier in Munster’s career where he may have wanted a greater say in what position he played.
But this is a more mature Munster, one who is “just happy to play a role that’s best for the team”.
“Earlier in his career he’d probably have a say or opinion on it,” Bellamy said.
“But I think now, and I haven’t actually spoke to him too closely about it, he just usually says wherever you think I fit best in the team, I’m going to do that.
“Wherever the team needs him, he’s quite happy to do that. I think he really enjoys playing fullback because it gives him a little bit more freedom but he’s just happy to play a role that’s best for the team. It just shows how much he’s matured.”