Bellamy: Cowboys are NRL’s new benchmark
CRAIG Bellamy has declared the Cowboys can derail Melbourne's bid for back-to-back titles with the supercoach admitting his Storm juggernaut is no longer the team to beat.
Bellamy's candid assessment has been backed up by Queensland legend and Test coach Mal Meninga, who believes the Cowboys have the roster to clinch a second premiership in four seasons.
Bellamy got a close-up view of Melbourne's primary threat on Friday night when the Storm were beaten 16-14 by the Cowboys in the Cam Smith-Johnathan Thurston testimonial clash at Suncorp Stadium.
The Storm cantered to the NRL premiership last season, flogging the Cowboys 34-6 in the decider, but the departure of champion halfback Cooper Cronk is a huge blow in their quest for consecutive titles.
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North Queensland, meanwhile, have been bolstered by the return from injury of key duo Thurston and Matt Scott, while they have further eroded the Storm by poaching monster prop Jordan McLean.
Bellamy has guided Melbourne to seven grand finals in the past 12 seasons but has turned up the heat on the Cowboys and Cronk's Roosters, installing them as the NRL's new top dogs.
"They (Cowboys and Roosters) are the two teams to beat for me," Bellamy said in the wake of the testimonial trial, which doubled as a grand-final replay.
"It's hard at this time of year to say who's the team to beat but the Roosters and Cowboys have added some class players to their squads
"The Cowboys have a huge pack when you add McLean in with Jason Taumalolo, plus Matt Scott is back (from a knee reconstruction) and you have a guy like Coen Hess coming off the bench.
"That's a big footy team. And they have halves like 'JT' (Thurston) and (Michael) Morgan, so that's a pretty good team.
"They have recruited well and so have the Roosters."
Kangaroos coach Meninga is adamant only a shocking injury toll can stop North Queensland adding another trophy to the maiden premiership they won in 2015.
"They are the team to beat. I look at their roster and there's no reason they shouldn't win it," Meninga said.
"The Cowboys made the grand final last year without 'Johnno' (Thurston) and now he's back and so is Matt Scott.
"Jordan McLean is a massive asset, they have to be the favourites at this stage but there's always that concern with injuries.
"To win a premiership you always need luck to keep your best players on the footy field. History shows teams who keep a stable roster win the comp.
"The Cowboys look very formidable."
Cowboys coach Paul Green scoffed at suggestions his side are raging favourites and warned his troops not to be seduced by the hype.
"I love how it rolls off people's tongues - 'they should win it' - like it's pretty easy to do," Green said.
"It's a long year, it's a tough year. There are plenty of good teams, a lot can happen in an NRL season.
"You can't take anything for granted. It takes a lot of work to get to a grand final, let alone win one. We're aware of that, we can only control what we can do."