Melbourne Storm is hoping to bring some normality to its abnormal circumstances as the club prepares for its first NRL match under coronavirus conditions.
The Storm will be picked up by the 48-seat NRL charter flight early on Saturday afternoon – after it has deposited Canberra players on the Gold Coast – and flown to Sydney for Melbourne’s night clash with Cronulla.
The lights on the flight will be dimmed and windows shut to encourage those players, like lock Dale Finucane, who usually nap before matches, to stick to their routine.
The players will spend time in a specially created lounge at Jubilee Stadium at Kogarah where they will eat together before preparing for kickoff.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy said it would take time to adjust to their new travel plans.
“We’re trying to make it as normal as possible but it will be different,” Bellamy said.
We’re not travelling today (Friday) and we’re coming back straight after the game but we need to adjust our routines and make it work.
“At the end of the day, we’ll be at the ground two hours before and we’re playing and that doesn’t change so that will be our mentality.”
Bellamy says the team had been trying to focus on the Sharks, with whom they shared a fierce rivalry.
While Melbourne opened with a round-one win over Manly, the Sharks rallied late before falling to South Sydney.
Cronulla winger Ronaldo Mulitalo has been cleared of a head knock to take his place, with Josh Dugan – named on the bench – tipped to have another week on the sidelines as he recovers from a knee injury.
Bellamy said his players were on guard for veteran Cronulla halves Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend, however he was delighted with how his own playmakers, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes, fared in the opening match.
Hughes played six games in the halves at the end of last year, but spent his first full pre-season training at No.7 over summer.
He set up two tries by kicking sweetly for winger Suliasi Vunivalu.
“I really liked what Jahrome did,” Bellamy said. “He came up with some big plays with those kicks but, defensively, he was outstanding.
Meanwhile, a shoulder injury to halfback Brodie Croft has soured Brisbane’s 22-18 NRL win over South Sydney at an empty Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
A try-scoring hat-trick to outstanding centre Kotoni Staggs fired up the Broncos, but the win was tempered by the sight of playmaker Croft being helped off the field in distress in just the 14th minute.
Croft was on fire from the outset, backing up from his inspirational hand in Brisbane’s opening-round 28-21 victory over North Queensland by setting up Staggs’ opening try in the seventh minute.
But disaster struck soon after as Croft crumpled to the ground, clutching his shoulder, with Broncos staff hinting the Melbourne recruit had suffered an AC injury and might be sidelined for up to three weeks.
At Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Penrith rookie Stephen Crichton was the hero for the second week in a row after sparking the Panthers to a 10-try thriller over St George Illawarra.
Crichton was again injected off the bench at fullback midway through the second half on Friday night.
And, like he did six days ago against the Sydney Roosters, the 19-year-old came up with the clutch play in the 32-28 victory.
He cut through the Dragons defence off a Nathan Cleary pass, found support in Liam Martin, before backing him up again to finish off the 70-metre movement.
“We’re happy to have him. It’s just finding a spot for him,” Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said of Crichton.