Melbourne’s veteran coach, Craig Bellamy humorously reminisced about how opposing coaches used to assert that halting his former fullback prodigy, Billy Slater, would require nothing short of a “double-barrel shotgun”. Today, Bellamy finds himself faced with a similar challenge; silencing a player he perceives as faster than Slater – Broncos’ dazzling Reece Walsh in the upcoming NRL qualifying final. With the use of weapons off the table, Bellamy earnestly hopes that his strategically laid out plan is sufficient to contain the burgeoning star.
In their earlier face-off during round 11 in Melbourne, Walsh had a blank record in terms of tries, and later was given rest during the final round encounter. The Storm emerged triumphant on both occasions, prolonging their impressive winning run against the Broncos. Yet, Bellamy remains keenly aware of the Walsh’s potential danger, as he recalls the same talent in Slater, who used to carve his way effortlessly through rival defenses in his purple jersey.
Evoking a past conversation, Bellamy chuckles, “The question about stopping Billy (Slater) would often come up and the retort always was – ‘only with a double-barrel shotgun'”. While jestingly articulating a wish for a real shotgun, he proudly mentions, “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone faster than Reece. While Billy was astoundingly able to change directions quickly, that straight line velocity of Walsh is extraordinary. His quickness is unlike any I’ve seen. We’re banking on a plan to tackle him, but there is no denying that Walsh is a formidable player and a priceless asset for the Broncos.”
Not to be outdone, Bellamy’s team boasts its own weapon of speed, in the form of Clive Churchill medalist, Ryan Papenhuyzen. The speed demon is just two matches away from returning from a catastrophic injury that Bellamy feared could have prematurely ended his career when his kneecap disintegrated into fragments last July. Papenhuyzen is scheduled to bounce back to the benches of the Suncorp Stadium.
Despite harbouring high expectations, Bellamy is hesitating to pin them on the 25-year-old. He believes, however, that Papenhuyzen’s return could serve as a wildcard for Melbourne. “Paps has showcased outstanding form. The more matches he plays, the sharper he will become,” Bellamy mused.
He added, “His return has infused confidence among the team, particularly the more experienced players. His pace is undeniably his strength, but he also has a shrewd understanding of the game. Having played different positions the past six weeks in the Queensland Cup and NRL, we’re certain he will be a valuable addition to the team. His position in the team will largely depend on the course the match takes, but regardless, his energy and know-how will be indispensable.” Yet, Bellamy admits, “We haven’t quite nailed down a foolproof plan of action.”