Storm coach Craig Bellamy has praised a pair of match-winning performances from senior players Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster, while suggesting a coronavirus-enforced shutdown of lower grade competitions has made squad rotation more important.
Coming off a disappointing loss to Canberra and with prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona suspended, Bellamy rung the changes ahead of Friday night's 22-8 win over Souths.
Energetic utility forward Brandon Smith started in the middle, centre Brenko Lee earned a club debut at the expense of Marion Seve and 27-year-old journeyman forward Chris Lewis earned an NRL debut off the bench.
"The longer it goes the harder it is to (give players a chance)," Bellamy said.
"If they're not paying footy you're going to be doubtful about their match fitness and stick with the guys you've got there.
"It's really important for that reason we get our fringe players playing. The main reason is for their mental wellbeing and being able to put themselves on display and say 'I'm going good here, pick me in first grade'."
Munster break leads to Vunivalu try
Lee, now 24, has played just 53 games in six seasons across three clubs but looked right at home on the Storm right side.
"We just wanted to give Brenko a start," Bellamy said.
"You don’t have to be Einstein to know he's got some real talent. What's let him down in the last few years is those little effort areas.
"We made him very aware what we expect of him in the pre-season; some things he struggled with and others he picked up pretty well but you knew he was out there tonight.
"He set up the first try with a good pass up the short side and every time he ran the ball he put a bit of a dint in them, that was the reason we put him in."
Bellamy said Lewis had had positive reports from those around him in the Sunshine Coast system and as a natural footy player who can play around the ruck, edge forward or centre, he was brought into the role Tom Eisenhuth had filled in recent times.
The fact he only got around five minutes was simply down to the tightness of the match and lack of injuries in the game.
"It was hard to get him on without getting someone injured; I got him on for the last five minutes and he did a good job, that versatility was the reason we put him in," Bellamy said.
"We're all really happy for him as a 27-year-old to get his debut, hopefully he gets a few more games this year.
Bellamy: We need to get the fringe players playing
"I would have liked to give him more time but with game as close as it was, I'm a bit conservative like that."
Bellamy had plenty of praise for the performances of Munster and Smith, repeatedly praising the latter's effort to make a try-saving tackle on Souths winger Dane Gagai in the corner late in the match.
"I thought [Munster] was really good last week to be honest and the same tonight," Bellamy said.
"We had a couple of really hard workers in our forwards, Cameron [Smith] came up with a big play in the corner to hold Gagai up, that was a big play but Munster did a terrific job.
"I thought it was a carry-on from last week, he was very good last week as well."
According to Bellamy the Storm forwards didn't lay Smith an effective platform against Canberra, when he was outpointed by opposite number Josh Hodgson, but the veteran edged rival Damien Cook on Friday night.
"With the new rules during the break we thought it was going to be the same as usual so some of the things you need to do now under new rules we haven't practised a whole heap," Bellamy conceded.
"It's been a bit different for us, hopefully we can get a bit better at that."