Watching the media conference to announce the penalties against AFL club Essendon last night, I got a stark reminder of how good Craig Bellamy is as a coach.
It came when someone in the media throng asked AFL boss Andrew Demetriou about the fact that with the Bombers suddenly playing for no points their game against Richmond on Saturday would be reduced to “dead rubber” status.
The question was delivered with great concern, not like it was the end of the world but close to it. It was, like, would anyone turn up? Should we be afraid?
I was reminded of when George Costanza swallowed a fly and, panicking, he cried: “What do I do?! What could happen?!” (Well, maybe not, but any excuse to repeat a line from a Seinfeld episode).
It was at that point, I thought: “Hang on, Melbourne played 20 games like that in 2010, and they won more than half of them.”
I checked the results and it was actually 18 dead rubbers, after the Storm were denied the opportunity to play for premiership points as one of the penalties for several years of hard-core cheating of the salary cap.
They won 10 and lost eight. Before the extent of the salary cap drama was exposed and the penalties handed down they had played six games, winning four and losing two.
Bellamy had coached the Storm to win two premierships that were stripped from the club, and he coached them to win a legitimate premiership last year, but I believe his coaching effort in 2010 was his greatest.
To be able to get his players to stay pretty well on track and competing strongly, putting the hard work in and taking all of the hits, when there was nothing that could come of it in terms of playing in the finals series and possibly winning the premiership, was awesome.
There were a few times during that period when it was clear the Storm had dropped their bundle and were finding it hard to keep going, but each time they lifted and got going again.
Through the middle of that 18-game stretch, in a period when the State of Origin series was going on and Melbourne often have trouble anyway, they lost five out of six, but they recovered to finish the season with five wins in their last seven games.
Had they been collecting points, they would have been in fifth place entering the finals.
As good as Melbourne’s superstar players are, that wouldn’t have happened without Bellamy finding it within himself to keep driving the whole thing when it would have been so easy to just say: “Stuff this.”
And it serves as a warning that, while there has been a lot of understandable excitement this season surrounding the performances of Sydney Roosters and South Sydney, the Storm are still a huge part of the premiership puzzle.
They are going to have to play away from home in the first week of the finals, as either the third or fourth-placed team, but they are still going to be in with a great chance of beating either the Roosters or the Rabbitohs.
The Storm are the only team in the top four that is unbeaten against the other top-four teams, having recorded two wins over Souths, one over the Roosters and a draw against Manly.
And when they get to the finals, Bellamy and his “big three’ – Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith – will enter the zone and prepare like a champion boxer getting ready for another title fight.
Bellamy has got the proven record and he’s got the big-time players, which is why, unless you follow the Storm, you’ve got to fear them.