If our goal is for the NRL to be run properly, effectively, evenly and fairly then Craig Bellamy should be the next CEO of the NRL.
What the first weekend of the finals demonstrated very clearly is something we all pretty much knew already: the Melbourne Storm are so far out in front of every other club that second place is daylight.
They are just so much smarter and more professionally run than every other club.
And the main reason for that is Bellamy.
Turning 62 in October this year, the skinny lad from Portland, NSW has effectively ruled the NRL for 15 years because he is smarter, better organised and a better manager than everyone else in the game.
It is now a remarkable sliding doors moment in rugby league history that Craig Bellamy was beaten out by Matthew Elliott for the Canberra Raiders coaching gig in 2002. The panel of then-Raiders CEO Kevin Neil and colleague Robert Finch have to live with that call.
Bellamy subsequently got the Melbourne Storm gig in 2003 and the only year that the Storm haven’t played in the finals since then was in 2010 when they weren’t allowed to.
They’ve played in nine grand finals in that period, winning five of them. Fourteen times they’ve finished in the top four. I’ve already praised the Storm’s professionalism and the other 15 clubs’ lack of it this season.
They are always in front of the curve. They are always better prepared. They are always the first to exploit loopholes and they are always the best at doing it.
We can whinge and moan continually about that if we want. The reality is you all secretly wish that he was leading your club.
Bellamy is the guy who figures out faster than anyone how to take maximum advantage of the rules of the game in regard to how his side plays. Yes, all of the grappling, wrestling and chicken wings were certainly part of that. However, they were all legal – and very effective – when he introduced their use. The rules had to be amended to make them illegal.
Further, he also figures out what the referees – down to an individual level – are likely to penalise and what they will tolerate and then exploits that knowledge.
His hiring of ex-referees boss Bernard Sutton – the brother of current leading referees Gerry and Chris – just highlights the emphasis he puts on that aspect.
We all watched on as the Storm clearly did as they liked to slow the Sea Eagles on their first and second tackles, knowing that the referees can only call a set restart at that point in the tackle count. The Storm were more than happy to sacrifice a few extra tackles in order to have time to properly form their defensive line.
Of course, everybody is doing it, it is just the Storm figured it out first and do it the best.
The bizarre thing is that the NRL haven’t closed such an obvious loophole that is completely against their supposed mantra of a fast, open game.
But you can just add that to the list of bizarre things the NRL has or hasn’t done: institution of rule changes that aren’t good or well thought out; trainers running wild across the field in every game in spite of the known risks; completely different on-field and off-field rulings for the same offences; the wall protecting drop kicks making a clear comeback; as well as the constant, baffling spin that emanates from Graham Annesley every Monday.
However, whatever circumstances the mob at NRL HQ manage to cobble together one thing has been constant for at least 15 years straight: Craig Bellamy works out how to exploit them all to his teams advantage better than anyone else.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve watched Ivan Cleary and Wayne Bennett publicly try to position their sides to get a better rub of the green with the refs. There is a big school of thought that says it can work. Many of those watching the Round 25 Roosters-Raiders game openly speculated on the effect that Trent Robinson’s spray had on his side’s treatment at the hands of the officials the very next game.
Bellamy never engages in any of that. He doesn’t need to. He doesn’t try to influence what the officials do. He examines each of the officials to a fine point and makes a game plan that best takes advantage of what he knows.
As well, he runs a tightly drilled, disciplined and well-oiled machine. There are no leaks, no dissent, no variations from game plans and always thorough professionalism.
If you want to take issue with Bellyache you’d better do it behind closed doors and have a very good case.
We frequently watch his visceral rage in the coaches box over the slightest things, even when his side is leading comfortably.
All his players and staff do exactly as he says because they don’t want to feel his wrath and also because they know that his way is the path to glory.
It is unquestionable.
What better person could there possibly be to run the NRL?
There is the old saying that in order to catch a thief you really need to hire a thief. The best person to set up your home’s security is a person who is an expert at breaking into them.
I guarantee you this: Bellamy will have clear ideas about all aspects of the NRL and how it could be run so much better.
He knows the game and all aspects of its operations backwards. He clearly knows how to test the rules to incredible detail. He knows how to run every department under his control and have them move in lock step. He constantly strives for excellence and his ability to develop unknown people into stars is unmatched.
Just imagine how the referees would operate under his command. You can bet we’d have consistency. You can bet we would have no speculation about whether we had the best people for the roles. You could be sure that the howler rate coming from the Bunker would plummet.
The match review committee and the judiciary would be the models of consistency and ration. The match day operations would be run like a tightly drilled military unit.
And the need to wheel out someone each week to churn out bizarre spin to explain away the latest inconsistencies and failures would fall right away.
Now, while the NRL is effectively an independent company and a closed shop as far as I can tell, I reckon they wouldn’t be averse to a paradigm where their organisation and the competition was actually widely considered to be well run and they weren’t constantly held up to ridicule and criticism.
There could be no one better to achieve that end than Craig Bellamy.
And as a bi-product we fans might actually get an evenly and transparently run competition that is well-managed and officiated.
Wouldn’t that be brilliant?
I implore whomever it is that actually makes the decisions about who runs the NRL to make Craig Bellamy an offer that he can’t refuse so that he can weave his special magic for the benefit of all rugby league teams and their fans.