Bellamy says Smith not done as game's best

Craig Bellamy has warned it's too early to write off Cameron Smith as the game's best hooker.
Craig Bellamy has warned it's too early to write off Cameron Smith as the game's best hooker.

Craig Bellamy admits perennial NRL contenders Melbourne are in transition but has a warning for those attempting to dethrone Cameron Smith as the game's best hooker.

The former Test No.9 came off second best against Canberra's English rake Josh Hodgson last round but Bellamy said talk of Smith's demise was premature.

That will be tested on Friday night at AAMI Park with the Storm hosting South Sydney and Smith going head to head with current Kangaroos hooker Damien Cook.

Both teams are looking to rebound from disappointing losses in their competition restart, with NSW State of Origin lock Cameron Murray moving back into the middle as the Rabbitohs look for more punch in attack.

The Storm have made one forced change with giant prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona suspended.

Ahead of their meeting, Bellamy agreed with Rabbittohs coach Wayne Bennett's assessment his Storm team had lost some of its aura despite winning the minor premiership and playing in the preliminary finals last season.

"I suppose Wayne is right to a certain extent," Bellamy said on Thursday.

"We had a great run there with some great players but there's no (Billy) Slater, no (Cooper) Cronk so he's right we probably are a little bit in transition but we think we've got some really good young players coming through and our older players are still playing well.

"I like the look of our side at the moment."

Turning 37 this month, Smith is the oldest player in the competition but Bellamy disagreed with comments by former halfback great Peter Sterling that Hodgson was now the best No.9.

"Obviously Josh (Hodgson) is a fine player and he had a hell of a game last week," Bellamy said.

"I'm not in agreement with that - I thought Cameron played really well the first two rounds and I think it's a bit early to be making that statement.

"It's up to us as a group to play well and do for Cameron the things that he needs doing as the Raiders forwards did by laying a platform for Josh last week."

Following the loss Smith said his team needed to embrace a more "ad-lib" style of play under one referee and the new six-again rule, but Bellamy believed they didn't need to revamp their game plan just execute it better.

Melbourne's completion rate was below 70 per cent - way down on their usual standards.

"Part of our problems was our completion, without a doubt," Bellamy said.

"There's a few things we're going to look to do a little bit differently but we don't want to go away from what we think our strengths are.

"It probably suits us but because of our lack of control of the ball I'm not quite sure where we are at with the new rules."

STATS THAT MATTER

* The Storm have won 26 of 31 games against the Rabbitohs (83.9 per cent) and all 15 games played in Victoria.

* In Round 3, the Rabbitohs had the second best completion rate (85.7 per cent), while the Storm had the second worst (69.2 per cent).

* Bellamy and Bennett have coached a combined 1295 games, winning 832 of those and making 17 grand finals.

Australian Associated Press