Melbourne Storm eye up replacements after losing Christian Welch in brutal NRL opener

NSW State of Origin forward Tariq Sims is looming as a genuine option for Melbourne’s depleted pack after a bruising NRL season opener that saw star forward Christian Welch rupture his Achilles.

The Storm were left flat after their come-from-behind 26-16 win over Wests Tigers on Saturday night, leaving Parramatta Stadium with three serious injuries.

Welch will battle to play again this season after an Achilles rupture was confirmed, winger George Jennings’s season is likely over with a suspected ACL tear, and hooker Brandon Smith suffered a broken hand.

Welch and Smith’s injuries in the pack also come with Tui Kamikamica still stood down indefinitely due to an off-field incident and Jordan Grant and Tom Eisenhuth out with calf injuries.

Jesse Bromwich also missed the win over the Tigers as a household contact of a COVID-19 case, with the Storm nervous on whether he will avoid the virus and be back to face South Sydney on Thursday.

In a boost for the Storm, forward Trent Loiero escaped with a $1,000 fine for a cannonball tackle on Wests Tigers forward Luciano Leilua.

Regardless, the situation threatens to leave the Storm under the pressure for the rest of the season.

Sims, meanwhile, has been told by St George Illawarra he will not be re-signed for next year and can leave if a deal is struck.

NSW Origin forward Tariq Sims has been touted as an option for Melbourne after being told he is free to leave St George.(NRL Photos via Getty Images)

He can play in both the middle and second row, and had attracted interest at Melbourne before Saturday’s injuries, after not being named in the Dragons’ 17 for round one.

“Not at the moment, no,” Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said when asked if Sims was headed south.

“We’ll have a bit of interest in a few players the way we’ve lost some. Tui is suspended and we’re not sure when he’s coming back.

“We’re not scraping the bottom of the barrel, but we’re getting towards it.”

Tyran Wishart stepped up with 78 minutes at dummy-half on debut after Smith went down in the second minute.

Wynnum-Manly under-20s player Alec MacDonald, who has not played a Queensland Cup game yet, played 56 minutes for the Storm in their season opener due to their thin bench.

“I was really confident in Alec putting in the effort [Saturday night]. I know how fit he is, that’s his strength,” Bellamy said.

“We’ll have to pull two or three players into the squad if the two injuries are as serious as our medical team think they are.”

Melbourne will get some relief on Thursday, with Harry Grant and Cameron Munster to both return.

The likes of Jahrome Hughes and Ryan Papenhuyzen also proved again why they are among the top-tier players, taking over after the injuries.

The pair had a role in all four second-half tries, with Hughes scoring one and making a bust in the lead-up to another to help Storm go from 14-6 down to 10-point winners.

“My responsibility in the team is moving up a bit. Especially with the young guys in the spine as well,” Hughes said.

“I just tried to keep their job simple. Me and Paps [Ryan Papenhuyzen] put it on ourselves to step up a bit in the spine and try and take over a bit.”

AAP/ABC

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