Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has made several changes to his side ahead of Saturday night�s clash with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, including omitting veteran prop Rodney Howe to make way for the return of Alex Chan.
Chan returns this week after serving a two-match suspension for a high tackle on St George Illawarra�s Ryan Powell in Round 3, he is joined by young second-rower Dallas Johnson and centre Ben MacDougall.
Although named in the 18-man squad MacDougall will be required to prove his fitness later this week if he is to overcome a hamstring injury that saw him miss last week�s four-point loss to Penrith.
Howe and fellow prop Antonio Kaufusi have both been dropped for this week�s match with the Rabbitohs, the latter for disciplinary reasons after he missed the Storm�s recovery session yesterday.
Bellamy admitted dropping Howe � who has seen limited game time in recent weeks � was one of the hardest decisions of his coaching career and one based on a lack of form and not a lack of commitment.
�I can�t fault �Howey�s� attitude or his desire, he is hungry and works very hard so leaving him out of the side is one of the hardest things I�ve ever had to do,� Bellamy explained.
��He is just struggling a little bit with his body after his (knee) injury last year and some other bad injuries in the past, so hopefully he gets some more footy under his belt.
�He doesn�t deserve to be left out based on his attitude and his ability to try as hard as he can, because he does that every time. There�s just a couple of areas of his game that are letting him down at the moment and he needs to go back and practice those areas in Brisbane and it won�t be long before he�s back in the team.�
Bellamy added that while Chan is a definite starter this week, MacDougall is no certainty to line up against brothers Adam and Luke, who have been in sparkling form for the Rabbitohs this year.
�Chan is as fresh as a daisy, he did the crime and he�s done his time so hopefully we won�t see any more indiscretions like that because he�s an important part of the team here,� Bellamy said.
�MacDougall�s been in good form although I�m not quite sure whether he�ll play or no, but hopefully he�ll get there by Saturday.�
MacDougall is quietly confident he will be fit to play this week as the Storm looks to deny Souths from recording their first-ever win in Melbourne.
�I think I�m a very good chance of playing this weekend, it�s just a matter of getting physio every day and if the hamstring improves this week as it has over the past week, I�ll be fine,� MacDougall said.
�It would be silly for me to come back too early and injure the hamstring again this week, so I will need to be really confident that it�s completely right.�
MacDougall�s inclusion has relegated Melbourne-born Jake Webster to 18th man while Johnson, who was hampered by a groin injury throughout the pre-season, is set to make his first appearance for the Storm in 2004 after playing 20 matches in his debut season last year.
MELBOURNE STORM TEAM TO PLAY THE SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS, SATURDAY APRIL 17, AT OLYMPIC PARK (7.30PM): 1. Billy Slater 2. Matt King 3. Steven Bell 4. Ben MacDougall 5. Dustin Cooper 6. Scott Hill 7. Matt Orford 8. Robbie Kearns 9. Cameron Smith 10. Alex Chan 11. Peter Robinson 12. Stephen Kearney (c) 13. David Kidwell 14. Danny Williams 15. Kirk Reynoldson 16. Dallas Johnson 17. Ryan Hoffman 18. Jake Webster
IN: Alex Chan, Ben MacDougall, Dallas Johnson OUT: Rodney Howe, Antonio Kaufusi