Fit-again five-eighth Gareth Widdop's remarkable bid to play NRL finals football has received a boost with Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy declaring he'll be given every chance to prove himself this weekend.
Widdop wasn't expected to play again this season after suffering a dislocated hip against Gold Coast in June. Bellamy says he was taken aback when told by the club's medical staff Widdop appeared ready to play for Queensland Cup feeder side Easts.
The 24-year-old England international is likely to line up in the Queensland Cup this weekend, before Bellamy makes an assessment on Widdop's ability to handle stepping up into the intensity of finals after so long out of top-flight football.
The fourth-placed Storm host ninth-placed Gold Coast in their last-round clash at AAMI Park on Saturday, but Bellamy is already thinking ahead to the semi-finals.
"It's pretty remarkable that he's playing. He's been running for a couple of weeks but I never sort of took it too seriously that he'd be back, I must say," Bellamy told reporters on Wednesday.
"Last week, the physio came to me and said 'I think Gareth's a good chance of playing for us again'.
"I said 'That's good news for us but we've got to make sure this is realistic'."
Bellamy said Widdop had been given a full medical clearance.
"The other thing that I had to be really sure of is that he was 100 per cent keen to play and he's certainly that. He's probably more than that," Bellamy added.
"He did some contact (work) with us yesterday and, at this stage, he's going to be playing this weekend.
"If he gets through that okay and there's no problems with his hip and he adds a bit of fitness, it's a nice present for us going into the semi-finals."
However Bellamy wasn't backing away from the potential risks.
"Yeah, especially after missing three months," Bellamy said.
"He is in really good shape but he's not in game shape.
"We'll just see how he gets through this week with the hip and his match fitness and see how he handles the contact side of it and just go from there."
Bellamy is demanding a lift in his side's defensive attitude after their 28-8 loss to Manly.
"Before we knew it, we were down 12-nil," he said.
"It's a concentration thing. It's a mental state to start the game.
"We all know what they need to do physically. It's just getting yourself mentally ready to do that.
"We just weren't prepared to do that.
"Getting this close to the semis, we have to turn that around this week."