CALM BEFORE THE STORM
THE UNTOLD STORY OF BELLAMY’S EVOLUTION FROM BRONCOS TRAINER TO MELBOURNE SUPERCOACH
IT STARTED with a beer and a backyard barbecue at Kevvie’s house. It ended with Craig Bellamy joining the Broncos.
While Bellamy is now spoken of in reverential tones for the ruthless dynasty he has built in Melbourne, it was fitting his remarkable ride began in a way that befitted his personality – with humility.
There was nothing grandiose about Bellamy’s entry to the big league.
“It’s pretty funny when I look back at it,” says Bellamy, who arrives in Brisbane today for Melbourne’s clash with the Broncos tomorrow night at Suncorp Stadium.
“I was good mates with (former teammate) Kevin Walters at Canberra and it was early December (in 1997) when me and my wife went to visit Kevvie and his wife at the time.
“We stayed a few days. We went up on a Friday and, on the Saturday afternoon, we’re hanging out and suddenly there’s a knock at the door.”
Enter Wayne James Bennett.
“So Wayne turns up ... I don’t think it was planned,” Bellamy chuckles, suspecting a Walters-Bennett plot.
“Next thing he invites me out the back for a chat and he offers me a job to work with him at the Broncos.
“He never gave me a time frame, he just said there’s a job if you want it, get in touch with me.
“Wayne didn’t stay for the barbecue. Me and Kevvie had a beer and I think Wayne had a diet coke and a bit of chocolate.
“I was surprised he offered me the job. I went back to Can- berra and talked about it with my wife. Our kids were pretty young and weren’t overly keen on moving, but it was too good an opportunity to refuse.” Within months, Bennett’s Broncos would discover what an asset they had – and the Bellamy drive now shining through in Melbourne, the code’s benchmark club. Bellamy will tell you it is a constitution residing deep in his DNA. His father, Norm, slogged it out for 32 years in the cement works. Literally, and tragically, he died on the job. Working at a quarry in the NSW bush town of Portland, Norm was crushed by a boulder. He was 51. Craig was 24, his memories of the quarry blowing rocks on to the school roof 1km away still vivid. Uphold-
ing his father’s legacy, Bellamy helped Bennett win a premiership in his maiden year at the Broncos in 1998, but he was determined to explore new frontiers.
With the help of then football manager Paul Bunn, now a Storm scout, Bellamy convinced the Broncos board to outlay $200,000 – a significant sum of money two decades ago – on revolutionary videoanalysis software.
Bellamy became the first coach in rugby league to test a method now used by all 16 NRL clubs.
“Craig was always writing notes and game plans ... we used to joke they were love letters for Wayne Bennett,” Bunn recalled.
“He was the first coach to truly analyse the opposition. Wayne mainly focused on improving his players, but when ‘Bellyache’ came along, he was so pedantic about preparation.
“Craig used to give his notes to Wayne on the opposition and one day Wayne said: ‘There has to be more to this, we need to do it with video footage’.
“Craig and the Broncos were the first to use a program called League Analyser. It cost around $200,000 to design.
“Once we bought the new program, the programmers said it would keep us 12 months ahead of the pack.
“That typified Bellyache. He was always going to be a great coach. He could pick an opposition apart like you wouldn’t believe.”
Typically, Bellamy downplayed his ingenuity, saying he was simply bored at times as a trainer and needed to fill in the downtime.
“When the pre-season slog was over, I thought, ‘Well what else can I do?’,” he said.
“I decided I would help Wayne by taking notes on the opposition. I’d give some notes to Wayne and cut up some videos.
“It was a bloody nightmare doing videos back then.
“Looking back, the amount of time it took was unbelievable compared to the technology we have today.
“I’m not that tech-savvy myself, but once you got your head around the system, it became a real breakthrough.”
Bellamy had hoped to succeed Bennett, but when Melbourne approached in 2003, Wayne wasn’t ready to walk away ... so he walked instead.
“It was Wayne’s club at the time and still is, I guess,” he said.
“I suppose at some stage I would have liked to coach the Broncos, but it just hasn’t worked out that way.
“I must say the five years I had there, I really enjoyed it. It was a great club, so professional. I will forever be grateful to Wayne and the Broncos for giving me that opportunity.
“For some reason, the timing hasn’t worked out for me to coach the Broncos and Wayne will probably outlast all the coaches, myself included. “He just keeps hanging on.” Former Broncos chairman and Storm director Dennis Watt cannot imagine the club without Bellamy. “I see Craig as synonymous with Melbourne, their wonderful history and what they stand for,” he said.
“The secret to Craig is his work ethic and care for his players. He never leaves a stone unturned. It transfers to everyone in the organisation.”
Bellamy is 59 in October and has the fitness and zest of a man a decade younger. But he admits there are now days when he feels the pinch. He cannot see himself emulating Bennett, 69 in January.
“There are just certain stages of the season that are so much more hectic than it used to be,” he said. “It’s like any other job really. There are some things I like and some I don’t particularly like.
“But at the end of the day, you have a role to play and you play it. But I do get tired sometimes, no doubt.
“I just don’t know how Wayne has done it for so long.
“When I was there, there was never any question it was Wayne’s club. he ran a tight ship and everyone knew who was in charge.”
The same could now be said about Bellamy and the Melbourne juggernaut that keeps powering on.
BACK TO THE FUTURE: Craig Bellamy in his early days at the Broncos and at Storm training.
FOREVER LINKED: Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy; (far left) with Broncos coach Wayne Bennett at the 2006 grand final breakfast; (below) Bellamy and Bennett at Broncos training; (below left) with Kevin Walters at the Storm in 2011; and (below right) with Cameron Smith holding aloft last year’s NRL premiership trophy. Pictures: Michael Klein, Brett Costello, Quin Rooney