Storm centre set to do it by halves

MELBOURNE Storm centre Maurice Blair says he is happy to partner Cooper Cronk in the halves in Friday night's crucial qualifying final against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy faces a dilemma with regular No.6 Gareth Widdop on the comeback trail after dislocating his hip in June, while replacement, Brett Finch, injured his shoulder in Saturday night's thrilling 23-22 golden-point win against the Titans.

Widdop played about 50 minutes for the Storm's Queensland Cup feeder side Easts on Sunday, his first game since the injury, and it would be a tough call to ask him to step up to a qualifying final on such a short preparation.

Finch is rated only a 50-50 chance at best of being available after injuring his sternoclavicular joint against the Titans, his cause not helped by the short turnaround before Friday night's game.

Blair has played a game in the halves this season when the Storm's Origin stars were away, and he said he would have no problems doing it again - providing the result was a better one.

"The Bulldogs beat us 39-0 so that wasn't good," Blair, who joined the Storm from the Panthers three seasons ago, laughed.

"Seriously though, although I prefer to play in the centres, I don't mind it (playing at five-eighth) at all.

"If the team needs me to wear the No.6 jersey, then, of course, I'll do it, but we'll just have to wait and see how they (Finch and Widdop) pull up."

The 28-year-old Queenslander, who has scored nine tries in 15 games this season, is headed back home at the end of the year after signing a two-year deal with the Gold Coast Titans.

Blair said he was excited about being able to play regularly in front of family and friends, but is totally focused on helping the Storm defend its title.

Stats certainly favour the defending premier - Melbourne has beaten Souths twice this season, 17-10 in Sydney and 26-8 in Melbourne.

The Storm has won 14 of the past 15 matches between the teams, including three-from-three at ANZ Stadium.

Although those numbers suggest the Storm would be heavily-favoured to win and earn a week off before the preliminary finals, Blair said they would count for nothing come game time.

"It's the result at the end of the 80 minutes that matters in the finals, and not what has happened previously," he said.

"We all know how dangerous they (Souths) can be and we know we have to be on from the start."



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