Bellamy beats the odds to join 400 club
Coach notches up 16 straight years at the Melbourne Storm
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