Ryley Jacks will start as Melbourne halfback on Saturday, with coach Craig Bellamy saying there would have been too much pressure on Cooper Johns if made his NRL debut against Newcastle.
Johns is the son of Matthew Johns and nephew of league immortal Andrew Johns, both Newcastle premiership players, and Bellamy felt it would have been a lot of pressure on the 20-year-old to replace injured No.7 Jahrome Hughes.
“Playing Newcastle does come into it – there would have been a lot of pressure on Cooper if we had of picked him and I’m quite not sure that’s fair to a young guy,” Bellamy said on Friday.
“It was in the back of my mind but I’ve selected who I think is the best decision for the team and that’s the way we’ve gone.”
Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith could spend some time at halfback during the match with Bellamy revealing he’d trained in the role this week.
Two of the most exciting fullbacks in the NRL in Newcastle’s Kalyn Ponga and his former schoolboy billet host Ryan Papenhuyzen will square off at Central Coast Stadium.
In the halves, in-form Queenslander Cameron Munster meets Blues No.7, Knights captain Mitchell Pearce, who is set to be partnered by Kurt Mann after overcoming an ankle injury.
Mann still had to complete their final training run, with teen playmaker Phoenix Crossland on standby.
It’s master versus apprentice in the coaching boxes with the first meeting of Bellamy and Adam O’Brien, who spent 11 years with Melbourne as an assistant coach.
The pair kept in regular touch during the COVID-19 shut-down, with O’Brien considering Bellamy a mentor as well as a close friend.
O’Brien has the Knights unbeaten this season, last round knocking off title favourites Canberra, and said he was treating it as any other game.
“I want to see us continue what we’ve created at the moment so that’s where my energies have been this week; it’s not about me and Melbourne,” O’Brien said.
“Don’t get me wrong, we have prepared well and we know what’s coming but me and Bellyache (Bellamy) are irrelevant.”
Bellamy is surprised by O’Brien’s early success, saying he had been an NRL coach in waiting for at least four years.
“I always knew he’d make a real success of the job and that’s proven to be,” Bellamy said.
“They are the best completing team in the comp … they’ve got the most three-man tackles in the comp which goes to show what their mentality is defensively.
“He’s got a great work ethic and knowledge of the game and the thing I love is that he doesn’t take short-cuts.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* If the Knights remain unbeaten it will be their best start to a season since 2002.
* The Storm have a horrible completion rate at 71.8 per cent, second worst in the NRL after making 14.5 errors per game, most in the league.
* Melbourne five-eighth Cameron Munster has 22 tackle busts this season, second most behind Nick Cotric (31).