Bel­lamy beats the odds to join 400 club

Coach notches up 16 straight years at the Mel­bourne Storm

Sunday News - - LEAGUE -

COACH­ING 400 NRL games at one club is an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment. Storm coach Craig Bel­lamy reached that mile­stone last night at Mt Smart Sta­dium in Auckland when the pre­miers played Wests Tigers.

He has al­ready eclipsed coach of the cen­tury Jack Gibson, whose 394 games were notched up at six clubs (Eastern Sub­urbs, twice, St Ge­orge, Newtown, South Syd­ney, Par­ra­matta and Cronulla).

Jack didn’t like to stay longer than three years at a club, fear­ing his ef­fec­tive­ness would di­min­ish. His pri­vate wealth meant he was the first of the full­time coaches, but while his ri­vals had day jobs as teach­ers or poker ma­chine rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Jack fur­ther in­su­lated him­self against burnout by oc­ca­sion­ally tak­ing a year off be­tween coach­ing ap­point­ments.

Com­pare that with Bel­lamy, who has en­dured 16 years straight at one club, in­ter­act­ing with his play­ers up to six days a week, yet never go­ing stale.

Wayne Ben­nett is the only other coach to reach the 400 mile­stone at one club, hav­ing achieved it in his first com­ing at the Broncos.

But Bris­bane is a rugby league city, while Mel­bourne is an AFL en­clave.

Early in Bel­lamy’s time in Mel­bourne, there was per­sis­tent spec­u­la­tion about the Storm clos­ing and a new club form­ing on theNSW Cen­tral Coast. The only ru­mours about Bris­bane con­cerned a sec­ond NRL team.

So, while play­ers in Mel­bourne feared for their fu­tures, Broncos play­ers could en­ter­tain the idea of con­tin­u­ing em­ploy­ment in the same city, should Ben­nett not of­fer a con­tract.

Fur­ther­more, Ben­nett didn’t con­front the player turnover Bel­lamy has ex­pe­ri­enced, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the salary cap in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2010, which found Mel­bourne cheated in 2006, the year they lost a grand fi­nal to the star-stud­ded Broncos.

Unloved at home, de­spite the Storm win­ning the 1999 premier­ship, and de­spised by in­flu­en­tial Syd­ney me­dia, some of those play­ers re­jected by the Broncos – Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk – must have oc­ca­sion­ally en­vied the Bris­bane life­style where the play­ers are adored by fans.

OK, there are ad­van­tages in play­ing a code some Mel­bur­ni­ans still de­scribe as ‘‘for­eign’’, ig­nored by the me­dia.

It takes a spe­cial per­son to still be suc­cess­ful in such a chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment for 16 years. Play­ers have an in-built radar for du­plic­ity. Their suc­cess on the field de­pends on de­tect­ing weak­ness in oth­ers: a de­fender too slow, or spent, or sim­ply out of po­si­tion; or an at­tack­ing player with eyes on the tack­ler, rather than the ball.

It fol­lows that had Bel­lamy have lied, or been self­ish, such as ar­rang­ing train­ing times to suit his own ends, he would have been caught out by the play­ers.

Play­ers gos­sip but the most neg­a­tive tales about Bel­lamy, passed down through the years, are that he has a poor dress sense at for­mal oc­ca­sions and it’s im­por­tant to duck out of spit­tle range when he ex­plodes.

He has played with some cur­rent coaches (Can­berra’s Ricky Stu­art), em­ployed as­sis­tants who have grad­u­ated to head coach­ing roles else­where (Par­ra­matta’s Brad Arthur, the War­riors’ Stephen Kear­ney, South Syd­ney’s An­thony Sei­bold and Can­ter­bury’s Dean Pay) and been an as­sis­tant him­self un­der Ben­nett in Bris­bane.

NRL referees coach Michael Maguire, for­merly head coach of the Rab­bitohs, was also a for­wards coach un­der Bel­lamy.

It must be par­tic­u­larly galling for Bel­lamy, a man so de­void of du­plic­ity, that some of his fel­low coaches have tried to un­der­mine his suc­cess.

Sto­ries planted in the me­dia, or protest­ing calls to head­quar­ters, have all been en­gi­neered to dis­tract him, oc­ca­sion­ally suc­cess­fully.

The grap­ple tackle dom­i­nated the me­dia in Septem­ber with such Ground­hog Day reg­u­lar­ity that Bel­lamy quipped, ‘‘It must be fi­nals time.’’

But hav­ing failed to chal­lenge the Sharks in the first half of the 2016 grand fi­nal, he opted last year for a far more ex­pan­sive style, mov­ing the ball to the backs early in a tackle set.

It helped re­duce the wres­tle early in the tackle count, but Wests Tigers and the Sharks found a way to beat him this year by con­ced­ing a mul­ti­tude of penal­ties in stop-start games.

Bel­lamy’s play­ers lost their rhythm and even­tu­ally their dis­ci­pline. Yet some of the sto­ries that sub­se­quently sur­faced in the me­dia im­plied Mel­bourne were the cause of the penalty blitz.

The sorcerer’s stone of coach­ing is to work harder than the play­ers and Bel­lamy did not find his way to that truth by ac­ci­dent. It is in his back­ground and his per­son­al­ity. It is sig­nif­i­cant that, of the eight coaches who have won the most games, his win­ning per­cent­age is the best (68.1 per cent). The Sun-Her­ald

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