Craig Bellamy is an outstanding coach. One of the best the NRL has seen.
But the best ever? No, no he’s not.
Many adoring pundits and fans have spruiked the record and achievements of the long-time Melbourne leader, but there are others – perhaps in the minority – who can’t place the crown of best ever coach upon the 59-year-old’s head because, according to them, he hasn’t proven it yet.
Dissenters will sight many reasons to claim that Bellamy isn’t the game’s best ever coach, mainly that he’s been the recipient of some extraordinarily good fortune in relation to players and circumstances.
And although he’s been good enough to take advantage of his favourable situation, the underlying feeling that he’s been in the right place at the right time casts enough doubt on putting his name first on the all-time coaching list.
To take the mantle of best ever coach, Bellamy will have to prove himself elsewhere under different conditions and in different circumstances. Many before him have faced similar questions and have had to put their methods to the test at different clubs.
Here are just a few of the more notable coaches who have proved their coaching credentials by taking on challenges and having success.
The old warhorse from Queensland had a one-town team and oodles of money at his disposal. He has more than proved his credentials over the years, no more so than when he won a comp at St George Illawarra in 2010.
He has won at all rep levels, was part of NZ’s winning World Cup set-up and came back to lift a flatlining Brisbane Broncos outfit to the 2015 grand final, which they only lost in Golden Point.
Many have said that anyone could have coached that Raiders side back in the late ’80s and early ’90s that Sheens guided to three premierships. And questions over his coaching ability only grew larger after a disastrous five-year stint at the North Queensland Cowboys.
But the questioners sunk right back to shadows after Shifty Sheens took the Tigers to their maiden premiership in 2005. He broke all sorts of milestones on his way to winning the competition that year while also, remarkably, being way under the salary cap.
For all his contract shenanigans at two clubs, the mad scientist dominated while in charge at Manly, most notably winning two competitions.
He then proved his coaching credentials after he then went to the Bulldogs and made the finals every year bar his last, while also making two grand finals in the process.
He now has returned to Manly, which had found itself a basket case under former coach Trent Barrett, and has got them competitive, winning and dangerous again.
After winning the comp in his first year with a very good Bulldogs side, Gus proved he was a coach of high quality when he went Penrith and made back to back deciders, winning the club’s maiden competition in 1991.
He then went to the Roosters and set them up for years of dominance and is regarded as NSW’s best ever coach.
Google the man’s CV. Quality achievements by anyone’s measure.
See notes above.
Then we get back to Craig Bellamy. He’s coached one team his whole career and has without question been blessed with luck. He’s had two certain Immortals and another NRL great all play 300-plus games for him.
Cam Smith has not only been touted as rugby league’s best game manager, he’s also viewed as good enough to be a captain-coach.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Bellamy has also had the best fullback since Graeme Langlands at his disposal and one of the very best halfbacks of the modern era. Together Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk have formed the best spine ever seen in rugby league.
But wait, there’s more.
Compare Melbourne’s astonishingly good run with serious injuries to some other clubs have had to endure over the years and it’s enough to make Tigers, Raiders and Panthers fans vomit sacks full of healthy ACL envy.
Then we come to the dark art of salary cap management.
Although Craig had no knowledge of the massive salary cap rorts that were taking place at the time, as a coach he was definitely benefiting from them. During this scandalous time in the game’s history, not one but two competitions were won by a Storm team puncturing craters in the salary cap. It was ordinary to say the least.
And while we’re talking about the ordinary, let’s not forget Bellamy’s awful rep coaching record. It reads like a lopsided tennis match.
So while his stats and achievements confirm that he’s a very good if not great coach, the fact remains that the Melbourne mentor has not been anywhere else other than the Storm and this will always count against him when talking about the best coach ever.
It would be wonderful for him and the game if he has the figs to take on a Titans or Warriors outfit and then have success at those types of clubs.
Doing so would likely cement his greatness and possibly his place atop of the NRL’s all-time coaching tree.
But until then, questions marks will always remain over any claim that he is rugby league’s best ever coach