The reason for this column is a brief moment from coverage of Melbourne’s victory over the Warriors on Anzac Day at AAMI Park.
The head clash between Storm winger George Jennings and Warriors forward Josh Curran brought about a lengthy break in play.
Craig Bellamy must be considered as one of the modern-day greats of coaching.Credit:Getty Images
Why does someone who is 61 years old, coached a staggering 482 matches and won three (legitimate) premierships still give nothing but his absolute, laser-sharp best?
I worked out a long time ago that coaches are different and that’s why they’re fascinating. Obsessive, compulsive, slightly cuckoo. If they’re not, they don’t last long and are quickly sacked.
Bellamy’s something different altogether. His ability to maintain an extraordinarily high standard since walking into the joint in late 2002 is something even his harshest critics must acknowledge.
It seems certain he will coach Melbourne next year after months of flirting with the idea of joining either the Broncos or Sharks, who his side meets at AAMI Park on Friday night, as a coaching director.
Craig Bellamy and the Storm at a training session in 2005.Credit:Vince Caligiuri
It’s easy to suggest Bellamy has been stringing everyone along, although it’s no secret he’s had a family illness to deal with and that’s slowed the process.
People at the Storm report the delay is more to do with Bellamy’s fastidious approach to every match.
Some head coaches delegate to their assistants but Bellamy’s sole focus from week to week is the next game. Then the one after that. Then the one after that …
What he’s doing next year has become an afterthought.
Why did Cronulla chase him so hard? Their 2016 grand final victory against the Storm is an appropriate reference point.
The Sharks did a Storm on the Storm that night, bashing them so much in the first half, constantly running at Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, that Bellamy’s team ran out of petrol and time.
Smith has said the Storm needed only 30 more seconds of play to score the match-winning try.
That was five years ago.
Since then, the Sharks have lost coach Shane Flanagan and, more recently, John Morris.
They have botched their salary cap and balance of their squad, paying too much for injury-prone players that drift in and out of form.
What about the Storm?
They lost Cronk and Billy Slater – and this year Smith – but have won two premierships and remain well and truly up to their eyeballs in this one.
There are too many elements to Melbourne’s success to list here, but there are few fundamentals they never get wrong.
Their recruitment is superb. They sign young players who are more concerned about their growth as a player, not the growth of their pay packets.
Craig Bellamy gets doused after winning the 2017 grand final.Credit:NRL Images
They pick up the ones that others don’t want, like Ryan Papenhuyzen and Josh Addo-Carr, and transform them into representative players.
They get rid of the ones they don’t want like halfback Brodie Croft and Curtis Scott, knowing the cons outweigh the pros.
Bellamy prefers players of character who can “play a role”.
Christian Welch would tackle a tram if the coach told him. Kenny Bromwich parades in the mounting yard like a 100-to-1 shot but then produces a performance befitting a courageous two-miler.
Players were different when Bellamy walked into the Storm’s offices in the old greyhound administration building at Olympic Park more than 19 years ago.
Since then, he’s changed as young men have changed. He’s mellowed with age and having grandkids, but maintains non-negotiable standards around attitude and preparation.
You wonder if loose cannons like Cameron Munster and Brandon Smith would shine at another club. You wonder how some players at, say, the Tigers or the Broncos would handle life under Bellamy.
They wouldn’t get through the front door.
Perhaps the greatest sign of Bellamy’s coaching is his ability to say goodbye to three of the greatest players of the modern-era but still have his side humming near the top of the ladder this year.
Smith’s shadow still looms large at Melbourne, as you’d expect.
Instead of never mentioning his name, Bellamy uses it to his advantage.
“What would Cameron have done during these games?” Bellamy said after consecutive losses to Parramatta and Penrith, challenging the senior players.
The Storm have been unbeaten since.
It’s not particularly sexy celebrating the Storm or Bellamy. Arguments about the dreaded wrestle, the salary cap scandal and how they bend the rules are easily tossed up.
In some ways, the critics are right. In some ways, the Storm are paranoid about what the critics say about them. All supercoaches have their faults. God knows Jack Gibson and Wayne Bennett had some, too.
But when Bellamy does eventually finish, he must surely be considered in the same breath as those two titans – as unpopular as that will sit with many.
Gibson won a total of five premierships at Easts (two) and Parramatta (three). Bennett won seven at the Broncos (six) and Dragons (one).
Bellamy has never tried his magic elsewhere but maintained an incredible standard for the best part of two decades.
He says the end is near. One more year. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Time for a conference conference
He’s an ideas man, that V’landys fella.
This week’s water-cooler discussion point is the two-conference system, which isn’t actually ARL Commission supremo Peter V’landys’ idea at all.
Phil Gould and Wayne Bennett have been banging on about it for years. They both have V’landys’ ear and it was only a matter of time before it became The Great PVL’s.
There are pros and cons for the conference system, although the fact that two Sydney teams – or Queensland teams, or the Broncos and Storm – can’t meet each other in the biggest game of the year doesn’t particularly appeal.
Claims that people will get all excited about Sydney and Brisbane grand finals are fanciful. They’re essentially dressed-up preliminary finals.
That said, I do like the idea of reporting on the NRL Super Bowl in Hong Kong or Las Vegas or Barcelona or …
What’s needed is a conference to discuss the idea of conferences. Then someone can do a report. And then it can be used as a doorstop, such is rugby league’s way.
What also caught the eye was news that V’landys and his ever-faithful deputy, Andrew Abdo, have told clubs there’s genuine interest from Channel Ten in snapping up the free-to-air rights from Nine, the publisher of this fine masthead.
Ten is saying nothing on the matter, although we can tell you its US owner, ViacomCBS, wasn’t interested in the NRL rights when the game came knocking last year during the COVID-19 crisis.
Indeed, ViacomCBS hasn’t had an appetite for sport at all, dumping the V8 Supercars – a staple of the network – from its coverage this year.
Raiders earn respect
He rubs some people the wrong way but if you want a reason to love and respect the great Ricky Stuart, you need to read Canberra reporter Holly Hazlewood’s story with Mary Konstantopoulos on NRL.com.
Hazelwood bravely talked about her struggles transitioning from being a man to a woman.
“I would constantly be worried about whether I got all my nail polish off in case one of the players saw and asked questions,” she said.
At the start of last season, Hazelwood told her story to the Canberra playing group and coaching staff at Raiders HQ.
“No doubt it probably stunned some people and some people may not have known what it meant to be transgender,” she said. “But I can’t thank the Raiders enough for how they have responded to me.”
As Konstantopoulos wrote: “Stuart eased her fears by also speaking at the meeting at Raiders HQ, assuring Hazlewood that he knew his players and they would be nothing but professional in their dealings with her”.
Stuart is a gem and not enough people see it. You always know where you stand with him and that’s a rarity in rugby league.
“Wests Tigers reportedly offer Benji Marshall a $1.2 million-a-year, five-year contract.” – Some breaking news in The Betoota Advocate, which seems to understand the madness of rugby league better than most.
Swimmer John Konrads, who passed away this week aged 78, was a true world-beater. He won gold in the 1500m at the 1960 Olympics in Rome and claimed 26 individual freestyle world records, including six in eight days at the 1958 national champs.
New Zealand trainer Angela Helen Turnwald was disqualified for four months and fined $3500 after her greyhound, Zipping Sarah, tested positive to crystal meth after winning at Christchurch’s Addington Raceway.
It’s a big weekend for …
The fifth-placed Sydney Swans, who meet the fourth-placed Geelong Cats, at the SCG on Saturday night.
It’s an even bigger weekend for …
The Bulldogs, who will look to back up their win over the Sharks last start when they take on Parramatta at Stadium Australia on Saturday night.
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