Craig Bellamy is Melbourne Storm’s greatest legend of all

Tim Gore Columnist

By Tim Gore, Tim Gore is a Roar Expert

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    Amidst all of the deserved fanfare of the massive roles Cam Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater have played, there was not nearly enough recognition for mine of the key person who made it all happen: Craig Bellamy.

    There is no question that Cronk, Smith and Slater are the greatest trio of the modern era.

    There are only a few great triumvirates to whom I can even try and compare them in regards to talent, longevity and x-factor: Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny and Ray Price; Steve Mortimer, Terry Lamb and Paul Langmack; Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley and Brad Clyde; Alan Langer, Kevin Walters and Darren Lockyer.

    However, when all things are taken into account the Storm trio still come out on top.

    Not only have they lasted far longer than any of those combinations did, their achievements at all levels have eclipsed the others.

    But here’s the bizarre thing about that: apart from Paul Langmack and Ray Price, a strong argument can be raised that the Purple Big Three do not have the natural talent of any of the others.

    While Billy Slater has certainly shown some freakish skills in the class of Lockyer, Kenny and Daley I guess, the greatest skills that Smith and Cronk possess is speed between the ears and cold, hard discipline during the greatest heat of conflict.

    It is those key attributes – far more than any others – that have won them Minor Premierships, Grand Finals, Test matches, Tri-Nations and World Cups.

    They stick to the game plan and they execute it perfectly. They have a plan for every possible scenario and know how to react quickly. They believe each other will be in the right spots and they inspire this deadly effective cool, calm control, adherence to the game plan and self-belief in all the often meat and potato players they’ve ever been surrounded by.

    But it wasn’t their idea. It’s not their plan.

    These three giants of the game owe virtually everything to their coach: Craig Bellamy.

    Craig Bellamy tall

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    The skinny kid from Portland, NSW (which is in-between Bathurst, Mudgee and Lithgow) was a foundation Canberra Raider in 1982 and played 149 games for the club, coming off the bench in the 1990 grand final win over Penrith.

    As a player he was subjugated to lesser roles by the likes of Laurie Daley, Mal Meninga and Chris O’Sullivan.

    As a coach he is subjugated by no one.

    Now at the conclusion of his 15th straight season with the Melbourne Storm he can arguably be said to be the greatest rugby league coach of the modern era.

    I’m certainly arguing it. I believe he has now eclipsed the other contenders for that mantle: Wayne Bennett, Jack Gibson and Bob Fulton.

    Apart from 2010 when the punishment enforced upon them because of the salary cap scandal precluded them from being there, the Storm have made the finals every year under his tenure.

    Of the league coaches in Australia since 1908 who have over 150 matches to their name, only Norm Provan has a better winning percentage (68.5 per cent to Bellamy’s 68 per cent) and Bellamy boasts over 200 more matches as coach than the great Dragon does.

    Unlike those other coaches, he had to build his empire up from dust. He inherited a side that had come tenth in 2002 and that many – including myself – thought would, in spite of their 1999 premiership, go the same way as other manufactured teams like the Adelaide Rams and the Western Reds.

    And they may have if not for Bellamy. In his very first season in charge he lifted his side into fifth spot, making it to the second week of the finals.

    His side featured a young halfback from Brisbane called Cameron Smith – who was actually manufactured into a hooker by Bellamy (in spite of clearly being too small for the role) – and a young whippet from Innisfail called Billy Slater, who finished the season with 19 tries.

    It was in the 2003 qualifying final against the fourth-placed Canberra Raiders that I knowingly saw Smith in the flesh for the first time.

    Much to the annoyance of the Raiders players, the young Storm number nine was effecting tackles by grappling his opponents around the neck and head.

    Later to be outlawed, it was extremely effective in slowing the play the ball down. The Storm upset the more fancied Raiders 30-18 that day.

    As much as people like to vilify Smith and the Storm for these sort of tactics, as used at the time they were not illegal. Only the subsequent outcry made the grapple tackle illegal. The same can be said of the other wrestling moves the Storm players were coached to use like the chicken wing.

    They only got made illegal because the NRL deigned it so. Until that point they were cutting edge strategy conceived by a great coach to give his side a winning edge. And no one can argue that the Storm haven’t had a winning edge.

    Bellamy conceives strategies and puts them into place. He drills his boys hard. He demands focus and adherence to the rules, the plans.

    The opposition coach’s box at Canberra Stadium is right next to the ABC Grandstand booth. During one Raiders Storm game in the 2000s Bellamy’s fury with his sides play was so huge that his tirade of expletives and vehemence was clearly leaking into our broadcast.

    Such was his rage that I thought the opaque window between he and my boss, Tim Gavel, would surely shatter.

    Here’s the thing: the Storm were winning fairly easily at the time…

    It was then that I realised an essential truth of the Melbourne Storm: they played well because they stuck to the game plan and they stuck to the game plan because they didn’t want to face Bellamy if they hadn’t. His rage is that terrifying.

    Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    However, do what he says, stick to his “Bellamy Ball” blueprint and you’ll find no more generous and supportive man in league. Just look at the way he embraced with each of his lads at the end of the grand final. There is no question that they share a bond that runs very deep.

    That’s not to say he doesn’t have his favourites.

    I did the sideline for ABC on August 4 2013 for the Raiders versus Storm game. The Storm handed out the Raiders their biggest ever defeat that day: 68-4. It was a total rout.

    I was really sick and had dosed up on all sorts of drugs just to be there. To keep my poor throat warm I had wrapped it tightly in my Collingwood scarf. When I asked Bellamy post-match for a one-on-one interview for Grandstand his response was to enthusiastically ask about how the Magpies were going. It seems that the great man is also from the same army as myself. He then did something that never happens anymore and invited me into the Storm change rooms for the interview.

    When we walked in the sight I was met with I’ll never forget. There was the great Billy Slater – fresh from scoring his two tries – putting on his roll on deodorant while singing along loudly to some very yodelly country music. Meanwhile a number of his teammates – I think it was Tohu Harris and Mahe Fonua – regarded this spectacle with looks that I took as being less than happy with the music selection filling the room.

    I looked at Craig Bellamy who said something along the lines of, “It’s Billy Slater, he can do what he wants…”

    “Yep. Fair enough,” I nodded.

    It’s also fair enough that Cam Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater would be his favourites. They have been the cornerstone of his success. They are great players, possibly some of the greatest ever. However, I’ll bet you quite a lot that they themselves will tell you they owe it all to Craig Bellamy, that they are his greatest zealots.

    And who were they before they were Storm players? Just some kids with promise, like so many others who start out.

    All of those who still harbour resentment about the salary cap scandal that resulted in the Storm being stripped of two Premierships need to remember that – apart from the likes of Michael Crocker and Clint Newton – most of the Storm’s players were nobodies before they became somebodies at the Melbourne Storm.

    That includes Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, Adam Blair, Ryan Hoffman, Jeremy Smith, Dallas Johnson, Jeff Lima, Brett White, Gareth Widdop and Blake Green.

    And don’t tell me that they poached junior talent. Every club is scouring the country for the best junior talent, but not every club has the conversion rate that Bellamy has had in turning potential into champions.

    For mine the Storm only broke one salary cap rule. It’s the same one that the Parramatta Eels broke: thou shalt not get caught. I still believe that they were punished for trying to retain – albeit illegally – the talent that they themselves had developed. That Bellamy had developed. I strongly believe that there should be great concessions for clubs who can do what Bellamy has done. Instead we stained his legacy with two stripped premierships.

    But now he has them back. The 2017 Premiership is arguably his best ever. Only four losses for the season, with two of those being during the Origin period.

    Craig Bellamy Melbourne Storm

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    Lots of people are thinking that this era of greatness will draw to a close with the breaking up of the big three, or with the eventual retirement of Cam Smith.

    But it won’t. The key to the Storm success – the dynasty – is Craig Bellamy. Just as he created Smith, Cronk and Slater, he will create more superb players. Kids with raw talent will take less money to play for him, to learn from him, to adopt his incredible and unrelenting, non-laurel-resting work ethic.

    Already we’ve seen Cam Munster, Brodie Croft, Ryley Jacks, Brandon Smith, Curtis Scott, Jahrome Hughes and Joe Stimson start showing their promise. Just as the departure of Matt Orford allowed Cooper Cronk to shine, we now anticipate the arrival of Croft.

    You can also argue that the Storm have only been able to win as much as they have because they wrestle in the tackle, because their judo moves stop quick play the balls, because Cam Smith sweet talks the referee.

    But that is rubbish.

    Those things have been open secrets for years now. Every team has been able to implement exactly the same strategies. But no side has replicated them nearly as well because no side is nearly as disciplined and smart as the Melbourne Storm. No side is able to retain focus and execute like the Purple Horde. No side is prepared to sacrifice and commit like the Storm.

    And the horde do it because Bellamy demands it. The man with the sweatiest armpits in rugby league is the greatest coach of all time because he insists upon adherence to an essential and dedicated basic work ethic. All their success grows from that.

    It’s not brain surgery and it’s not rocket science.

    You’ll find no superstar egos at the Storm. You’ll find no party boys. There is no room at all for them.

    What you will find is a determination and dedication that has rarely been seen before in professional sport.

    And at the very core of that you’ll find Craig Bellamy: The Melbourne Storm’s greatest ever legend.

    Tim Gore
    Tim Gore

    Tim has been an NRL statistician for ABC Radio Grandstand since 1999, primarily as part of their Canberra coverage. Tim has loved rugby league since Sterlo was a kid with lots of hair but was cursed with having no personal sporting ability whatsoever. He couldn't take a hit in footy, was a third division soccer player making up numbers, plays off 41 in golf and is possibly the world's worst cricketer ever. He has always been good at arguing the point though and he has a great memory of what happened. Follow Tim on Twitter.

    If you could choose from any and every NRL player in the competition, who would you pick in your rugby league dream team? Let us know with our team picker right here, and be sure to share it with all your league-loving mates.

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    The Crowd Says (83)

    • October 3rd 2017 @ 8:15am
      Duncan Smith said | October 3rd 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Good article, Tim.

      Craig Bellamy’s book ‘Home Truths’ is well worth reading as well, for an insight into his thought processes.

      • Columnist

        October 3rd 2017 @ 12:09pm
        Tim Gore said | October 3rd 2017 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

        Thanks Duncan. I’ll find the book.

    • October 3rd 2017 @ 8:22am
      Womblat said | October 3rd 2017 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      Hard to argue with any point made. And I think the secret to Bellamy’s and the Storm’s success is identified clear as a bell.

      Some people are just born to do things. Bellamy has found his life’s calling I reckon.

      • Columnist

        October 3rd 2017 @ 12:09pm
        Tim Gore said | October 3rd 2017 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

        If I had to pick a man to coach for my life I’d choose Bellyache

    • October 3rd 2017 @ 8:49am
      Greg said | October 3rd 2017 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      Trying to defend breaking the salary cap because you developed the players is rubbish. If the Broncos rorted the cap to keep all of the players they developed then it’s highly likely the Storm wouldn’t have ‘won’ those premierships.

      • Columnist

        October 3rd 2017 @ 9:11am
        Tim Gore said | October 3rd 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        Greg, to which juniors the Broncos lost are you referring?

        • October 3rd 2017 @ 10:26am
          Gray-Hand said | October 3rd 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

          Cameron Smith?

          • Columnist

            October 3rd 2017 @ 11:25am
            Tim Gore said | October 3rd 2017 @ 11:25am | ! Report

            Was at Souths Logan in the Raiders program?

            • October 4th 2017 @ 3:15am
              Ken said | October 4th 2017 @ 3:15am | ! Report

              I also want to point out a well known secret , the broncos have a well known drinking and party culture as mentioned by Israel Folau in a few articles , with lots of stuff occurring at the Normanby hotel and other bars kept quiet from the general public apart from the Oates vs Hodges near punch up in the valley .The rising young star Curtis Scott trying to escape the party drug culture of Cronulla met Bennett and co a few years ago and opted for the Storm , that wouldn’t have happened 15 years ago when the broncos were the benchmark

      • October 3rd 2017 @ 1:33pm
        Greg said | October 3rd 2017 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

        Off the top of my head – Karmichael Hunt, Justin Hodges, Shaun Berrigan, Brad Thorn, Petero Civinoceva, Dave Taylor, Greg Eastwood……all were offered more money to leave the Broncos. If they had of rorted the cap like Melbourne then they could have kept them.

        • October 3rd 2017 @ 5:24pm
          matth said | October 3rd 2017 @ 5:24pm | ! Report

          Wendell Sailor, Corey Norman, now Ben Hunt, Lote Tiqiri, Matt Parcell, Jake Granville, Scott Prince, Brent Tate and I’m sure I’ve missed a ton of others.

          • October 3rd 2017 @ 5:25pm
            matth said | October 3rd 2017 @ 5:25pm | ! Report

            Jarrod Wallace, Ashley Harrison. Actually I’ll give up there, it’s depressing.

        • October 4th 2017 @ 2:55am
          Ken said | October 4th 2017 @ 2:55am | ! Report

          Some you may have right but Brad Thorn didn’t leave for for more money , he went for less to fulfill a dream To play for the All Blacks so that’s not true , Petro left because he was taking unders for years on the promise from Bennett he would be paid his worth when Webke retired and when Bennett used that money to sign younger props he quite rightly felt lied too and left for the panthers ,Dave Taylor was not wanted by the broncos because of form , he was a 7 playing in the body of a prop and kept having brain explosions with kick an chase plays that weren’t on , and Eastwood had continous weight issue where he played as a centre /wing An ended up a forward .Theres a famous saying the broncos never lose anyone they truely want to keep and they lost some players when they signed Folau from the Storm ironically due to salary cap constraints.Corey Norman wasn’t established at the broncos and left to fit Milford into the picture

          • October 4th 2017 @ 8:20am
            Greg said | October 4th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

            Exactly the point Ken – why did Petero have to take unders? Because of the salary cap. If the Broncos had of cheated like the Storm did then Petero could have been paid outside the cap like Cam Smith was. That’s why you cannot possible defend the Storm from cheating and they were rightfully stripped of all rewards from that period, because if other teams were also doing it then the Storm wouldn’t have won those titles. On the other hand, if the Storm were cap compliant then some of their players would have had to take unders and would have left the club just like Petero.

    • October 3rd 2017 @ 9:14am
      Jimmmy said | October 3rd 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      Interesting Tim. Did Bellamy make the big three or did the big three make Bellamy?. I think it’s a bit of both. Smith and Slater would have been champions wherever they ended up. They are natural footy players. You can’t coach the way Smith moves from dh. You can’t coach Billy’s anticipation or intuition. He was born with it.
      On the other hand the way Bellamy consistently develops new talent and improves players with average ability is unsurpassed.
      The hammer needs the bullet and when it finds it look out.

      • Columnist

        October 3rd 2017 @ 9:25am
        Tim Gore said | October 3rd 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        My point Jimmmy is that we’ve seen the sort of raw talent and intuition Smith and Slater possess from many many many many young players. We’ve also rarely seen it realized like they have. That’s Bellamy.
        The Purple big three may have been great without him, true. But I’m betting not.
        However, your synergy point is well made.

        • October 3rd 2017 @ 10:56am
          Albo said | October 3rd 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          Tim I don’t think it is necessarily the raw talent that is the key, but more so having these group of players ( whether recruited originally by luck or design) with such an attitude to succeed. Along with Bellamy, Smith, Slater & Cronk too, all have an inherent basic drive to succeed . It has been the perfect onfield / off field combination that has dictated the Storm’s winning direction for over a decade. This powerful base within their team, drags any other player who joins the team into this culture, it guides their recruitment process and seeks to develop a succession plan to retain this attitude to succeed longer term. Whilst I am sure all Clubs would seek to replicate this, it is just so limited by the number of players ( & coaches) with both the combined real talent & attitude to succeed , for other clubs to duplicate the same record as the Storm.

          • Columnist

            October 3rd 2017 @ 11:38am
            Tim Gore said | October 3rd 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

            My point is that Bellamy has the ability to turn a sows ear into a silk purse and a pair of Blunnies into RMs.

    • October 3rd 2017 @ 9:24am
      AR said | October 3rd 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      Without a doubt Bellamy is the biggest asset the Storm have.

      He makes average players good, good players great, and drills them all into a disciplined machine that allows their individual and collective talents to shine.

      Best coach ever.

    • October 3rd 2017 @ 9:25am
      Dean said | October 3rd 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      I’ve looked 3 times, but I can’t find in brackets (satire). It’s not April 1 (April Fool’s Day). I can only surmise that this is a serious piece Tim.

      Now. I’m going to sit back & watch the response from the hypocrites from other clubs ( non Storm), attempt to rip you to pieces because they refuse to admit that their clubs have been just as guilty as the Storm in signing & retaining players, “Oh golly gosh no, not our clubs.”
      The poor dumb fools. With all due respect to fans of other clubs, do they really think their clubs have not more than likely transgressed in the same manner as the Storm. As you have written Tim, the Storm broke the number one rule: Thou Should Not Get Caught. From everything I have read, The Storm, Canterbury & The Eels only got caught is because they were dobbed in by someone from those organisations. For as long as there has been a salary cap, there has been the running joke about The Roosters & “We just managed to fit him under the salary club.” Yeh, sure, yeh right. There is pressure on every club to not only sign players, but to also keep them. But, you try and tell people this & you get the same response from every one of them, “Oh good golly no. Oh good gosh no.” Well I’m sorry to tell them, “Oh good golly yes, oh good gosh yes”.
      They need to tell the people in charge of the books at their clubs, “Don’t get get caught & just as importantly, if you are going to sack someone, first of all you need to ask the question, “does that person know about the 2nd set of books”?
      My team is the Storm Tim, so you know where I’m coming from.
      “We were just able to keep him under the salary cap”. I laugh when I hear that one now, but in all honesty, I also think “Why not, just don’t get caught.” After all, isn’t it the Aussie way, to cheat the taxman?
      I eagerly look forward to other responses to this article.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • October 3rd 2017 @ 10:35am
        Gray-Hand said | October 3rd 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

        Well, the Broncos are a listed company. So any fraud on the salary cap has major implications for the company and the individual diectors involved with the fraud. Actual prison sentences are a much more real possibility than they are for the board member of some suburban club.

        • October 3rd 2017 @ 11:29am
          Ken said | October 3rd 2017 @ 11:29am | ! Report

          CAN You explain Andrew Gee resigning. few years ago to prevent questioning by the Nrl on the disappearance of $400,000 from the leagues club around the same time Milford knocked back a $1000,000 offer from the raiders to sign with the broncos for $600,000 , that’s not sour grapes that was reported in the courier mail at the time and than suddenly nothing more was mentioned by the pro broncos news paper ?, the money was mysteriously repaid with no one questioning where it went or came back from ?.The FOGS organisation are some of the richest men’s men in Qld who support the broncos organising third party deals and other incentives for their players .This is not a anti Broncos post just stating the obvious hypocrisy in finger pointing ., the 1998 broncos premiers had 11 australian players in it all under the cap , the 2006 premiers had 6 Australian an also 9 Origin players in it all under the cap , don’t tell me they all played for unders when there has been a grading in pay , if u play origin or nationally you get a automatic pay increase .The only teams I think are clean are the knights cus they were almost broke and maybe the tigers ,I remember a certain Titans half back being investigated for being given a new house with no money being exchanged a few years ago , so much hypocrisy .we are guilty we got caught so did the warriors , bulldogs and the Eels but don’t for a minute think you’re own clubs are lily white ,or you will end up like the Eels fans in 2010 waving money at the storm players and loudly abusing them as cheating grubs , year later we found their own club was rorting more than the storm had at around that time , with paper bag money exchanged in carpark , and next year it’s like the Eels never cheated at all , all is forgiven lol ,Hypocrisy .

          • October 3rd 2017 @ 1:18pm
            Gray-Hand said | October 3rd 2017 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

            The FOGs have nothing to do with the Broncos. You are thinking of the Thoroughbreds. The Thoroughbreds are business men and fans of the Broncos who (it is generally believed) help arrange 3rd party deals for players. 3rd party deals are registered with the NRL and are a legitimate way to pay players.

            1998 was a special year for the salary cap given that it was the year after Superleague where the salary cap didn’t exist but players remained on contracts from that period. I believe that no clubs were found to have breached the cap that year despite numerous incidents of lopsided rosters.

            I’m not sure how the Andrew Gee payments would relate to Anthony Milford given that Milford wasn’t even playing for the club at the time.

            • October 4th 2017 @ 3:18am
              Ken said | October 4th 2017 @ 3:18am | ! Report

              Thank you for the correction , I meant the thoroughbreds my bad .

        • Columnist

          October 3rd 2017 @ 11:33am
          Tim Gore said | October 3rd 2017 @ 11:33am | ! Report

          The salary cap isn’t a legislated law Grey Hand. It’s an NRL guideline.
          While there are some aspects that intersect with actual law, the $300,000 / leagues club / ASIC incident demonstrates that the actual risk is tiny.

          • October 3rd 2017 @ 1:36pm
            Gray-Hand said | October 3rd 2017 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

            I’m sure everyone understands that the salary cap isn’t a law of either the states or commonwealth. But a listed company has to record, report and make available for audit, how it’s money is spent. Hiding any extra payments to players from shareholders would be fraud.

            Failing to disclose relevant information is serious business for a listed company. It opens up personal penalties against directors and the possibility of shareholder action against the company.

            The Andrew Gee scandal demonstrates the difference that being a listed company makes – the Leagues club self reported to ASIC and the football club self reported to the NRL. Gee was bafflingly lucky to avoid further penalties than just the destruction of his entire career. If it had happened at another club, we never would have heard about it.

      • Columnist

        October 3rd 2017 @ 11:39am
        Tim Gore said | October 3rd 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

        No satire. I genuinely mean all I say. With good reason.

        • October 3rd 2017 @ 11:58am
          Ken said | October 3rd 2017 @ 11:58am | ! Report

          Tim thoughts in the NSWRL records being made out as NRL records ? eg St George most winingest premiers in the NSWRL in the 60s they never competed in the NRL so why are their records down as Nrl records ?

          • Columnist

            October 3rd 2017 @ 12:12pm
            Tim Gore said | October 3rd 2017 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

            All the major competitions at the time were put in linear order. The NSW comp at the time was bigger that the QRL.
            The only issue I have with this is 1997. I consider that a lost year.

      • Columnist

        October 3rd 2017 @ 8:52pm
        AJ Mithen said | October 3rd 2017 @ 8:52pm | ! Report

        Jees Dean, you’re kinda all over the place here…

        • October 4th 2017 @ 5:22pm
          Dean said | October 4th 2017 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

          Yes i I was. Sorry mate, I stuffed up on the way I read the story.

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