Melbourne mentor Craig Bellamy produces coaching masterclasses most years.
No matter the playing departures from the club, injuries or the bit-part players who step in and perform far better than they did at their previous clubs, the men in purple turn up year on year thanks to the coach’s ability to build an effective spine and support it.
Six wins from their past eight games has the Storm rolling confidently towards the finals for the umpteenth time. It will be a 13th post-season run in succession since the salary cap sanctions handed them the wooden spoon of 2010.
Bellamy was eight years into his tenure in the southern capital by that stage and the utter disgrace the Storm brought to the game collectively through their salary cap sins had some questioning the talent of the man at the helm.
He seemed to be a great coach, but had the cheating made him look a whole lot better than what he actually was?
Ever since, and after a defiant Bellamy and the squad marched as one away from the cameras after playing victim in an attempt to deflect guilt, the club has subsequently responded with nothing but consistency and sheer excellence, achieved despite the loss of some of the greatest players of the modern era.
Never before in rugby league has there been a team that encapsulated the ‘one man out, one man in’ mantra better than the Melbourne Storm.
Take out names like Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Josh Addo-Carr, Dale Finucane, Brandon Smith and Greg Inglis along the journey and it would be easy to suggest that an NRL club might struggle after their departure, at least in the short term.
Mind you, very few clubs have ever possessed the impressive roster assembled at the Storm during their most dominant periods. Blatant cheating of the salary cap will produce that.
However, now cap compliant and despite high turnover of his best players across the last five seasons, Bellamy continues to keep his team in the hunt year after year. They are looking like they will coast into yet another top four finish to underline their status as the most consistent club of the modern era.
This time around it is the brilliant Cameron Munster, hooker Harry Grant and developing half Jahrome Hughes guiding the Storm through the representative season and into a tidy third spot heading into the final straight.
Those three form the nucleus of a spine that would only be strengthened with the inclusion of the long-term injured fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen. Yet in true Bellamy style, even when faced with that significant loss, he simply finds another way.
Nick Meaney never looked anything above average at the Bulldogs and Knights but now is blossoming as a temporary solution to Papenhuyzen’s absence at the back. Another Bulldogs reject (no club jettisons talent as wastefully as Canterbury) Reimis Smith occupies a centre position and is maturing into the player many though he would become after dominating in the lower grades.
Kiwi winger Will Warbrick is a real find and the genius of Bellamy’s ability to get the best out of less influential players, within an overall structure designed to allow his spine to dominate, is impressive.
The same can be seen in the forward group. Big man Nelson Asofa-Solomona always has a target on his back, yet it is the work of quiet achievers like Josh King and Tui Kamikamica that take the heat off the representative player.
Many a year passes with pre-season pundits thinking that the Storm will not quite be the force they have traditionally been and much was made of that in the lead-up to 2023.
Watching the Storm put the Sharks to the sword last month, it was easy to be convinced that after a moderate start to the season, Bellamy has his team tapered for the finals yet again. They are far from perfect and a subsequent loss to the Panthers suggests they will need to improve further.
However, the fundamental question of why Bellamy’s spine building and recruitment of the right men to support it has not been equalled at any other club in instructive of his magnificence as an NRL coach.
As the Bulldogs, Dragons and Tigers chop and change halves, hookers, fullbacks and young pivots, looking desperately for the answer, Bellamy buys the right men, even before they have matured, and builds machine after machine.
Once again, playing Melbourne in the finals is not an attractive proposition in 2023. Few will be leaping in the air celebrating the consistency of a team most love to hate.
But respect them they will and the puppeteer pulling the strings.