Storm boss Matt Tripp has weighed in on the growing Wayne Bennett-Cameron Munster feud, suggesting the Dolphins coach should stop crying and move on.
Storm supremo Matt Tripp has fired a barb at Wayne Bennett as Melbourne’s rivalry with the Dolphins reignited over the battle for Cameron Munster.
The Storm are deep into their annual two-week camp in Geelong, plotting the club’s 2023 NRL premiership assault following last year’s injury-riddled campaign.
For a successful club like Melbourne, bowing out in the first week of the finals was a bitter pill to swallow despite the hurdles the Storm faced.
Now, they are seeking redemption as coach Craig Bellamy chases a fourth NRL premiership in what could be his final season in charge of the Storm.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Mail, Storm chairman Tripp:
– Leapt to the defence of Munster following his controversial rejection of the Dolphins.
– Gave an insight into why Bellamy could continue coaching the Storm.
– Hatches plans to retain rugby target Nelson Asofa-Solomona in wake of Eddie Jones’ Wallabies return.
– Reveals why star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen will miss the start of the NRL season.
– Speaks about the Storm’s burning desire for premiership success after last year’s failure.
The future of Maroons superstar Munster was one of the biggest talking points of 2022.
The cashed-up Dolphins had already poached Storm trio Jesse and Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi for their debut season, leaving Melbourne with a mammoth fight to retain the competition’s most in-demand player for 2024 and beyond.
But somehow the Storm pulled it off, with Munster rejecting a monster $5.6 million, four-year offer from the Dolphins to remain in Melbourne until at least 2027.
Munster decided his future just moments before hopping on a plane bound for the World Cup in England, with the Dolphins learning of his decision when it was made public.
That prompted a savage spray from Dolphins coach Bennett, who accused Munster of not being “man” enough to call him.
Munster this week hit back at Bennett, saying he felt “disrespected” by his former Queensland coach and revealing the two haven’t spoken since.
Tripp defended Munster as tensions rose again, setting the scene for an explosive round 12 Dolphins-Storm showdown at Suncorp Stadium.
“That was absurd, he (Bennett) clearly doesn’t know Cameron very well to question his character,” he said.
“Cameron has a great character and is a great person. I feel really lucky he’s decided to stay at Melbourne Storm.
“I get that Wayne was probably a little bit shocked but at the same time players come and go. If you want to cry in your drink over it, I’d be crying a lot.
“We lost a lot of players in the off-season, but you didn’t hear boo out of me when it came to knocking them or carrying on about it. You’ve got to get on with it.”
While Munster kept the Storm guessing all year, Tripp is hoping Bellamy won’t do the same.
Melbourne’s coach of the past 20 years is nearing retirement and has hinted 2023 could be his last season in the Storm’s top job.
Bellamy, 63, is still considered to be at the top of his game but has a desire to spend more time with family, something that is difficult with the demands of head coaching.
What could sway Bellamy to continue is the squad the Storm have assembled and locked up long-term – particularly in key positions.
Munster and halfback Jahrome Hughes are contracted until 2027, Maroons hooker Harry Grant until 2026 and fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen is tied up until 2025.
Tripp said Bellamy was yet to make a decision, but the Storm’s seemingly open premiership window was appealing.
“No he hasn’t, he has got until March,” he said.
“We chatted pre-Christmas and he was more ‘no’ than ‘yes’, but that might change as we get towards round one.
“Craig has been really buoyed by this squad. It’s a young squad compared to what he’s used to, but I really think he’s excited about the prospects of the next couple of years.
“The spine are locked down for that period and the key players are on longer term deals. It’s a squad the club believes is capable of winning premierships.”
If Bellamy does retire from head coaching he will remain with the Storm in an advisory role.
Tripp could be considered an active chairman. One of Australia’s leading businessmen, he holds strong relationships with players and has a key role in contract negotiations.
When the Geelong camp concludes, he will host players at his property in regional Victoria for a weekend of golf and bond building.
He has grown particularly close to New Zealand Test prop Asofa-Solomona – one of the NRL’s premier forwards who is off-contract this year.
When Tripp’s daughter Bella tragically died last year, aged 14, following a lengthy battle with leukaemia, Asofa-Solomona dyed his hair blue and orange in her honour.
Asofa-Solomona has a rugby background and has previously flirted with a switch to the 15-man code.
Speculation is rampant he is in the crosshairs of Jones but Tripp won’t let him go without a fight.
“I love ‘Nels’ and it’s no secret I desperately want him to stay at the club,” Tripp said.
“I’ll be doing all I can to keep him. We are talking but there’s been no real movement.
“The impression he’s given me is that he wants to stay and I’ve got no reason to doubt that. It’s just a matter of working out how long for and what it looks like.”
A key figure in Melbourne’s premiership quest is Papenhuyzen – the freakishly fast No. 1.
Papenhuyzen collected the Clive Churchill Medal in Melbourne’s 2020 grand final win against Penrith, but has been plagued by injuries and concussion problems since.
He suffered an horrific knee injury in round 18 last year and spent two weeks in the United States this month to help rebuild his confidence and body.
Papenhuyzen looks set to miss the early rounds of the NRL premiership but Tripp is confident the speedster can get back to his best this season.
“All he wants to do is play footy and get back out there,” he said.
“He is doing everything he can to be ready to go early in the season. We don’t know when that will be. We had ambitions of round one but that will be iffy.
“If we can get him back out there as quickly as we can and he gets his pace and confidence back then he can be the key piece of the jigsaw.”
For a club that demands success, being beaten at home in the first week of last year’s finals by Canberra was a bitter pill to swallow and hasn’t been forgotten.
“It’s not our style to bow out of the finals in week one without a yelp, we’re hoping to make amends,” Tripp said.
“No one is making excuses about injuries but if you sit back and look at how many we had, there were excuses in key positions that cost us a few games throughout the home and away season which made it tough in the finals.
“There’s a feeling there’s been a bit of a changing of the guard this year. We’ve had some legends of the club depart over the summer and that means we’ve had to inject some new blood.
“The new guys are all going really well. It gets everyone up and there’s a great feel around the place at the moment.
“Everyone is really excited about the year ahead.”