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They are the emotional words that have set up Melbourne’s annual crawl through the winter.

Two weeks ago, the habitual pacesetters were sitting in the unfamiliar company of the cellar-dwellers, and preparing for a fortnight against more familiar elitists Manly and South Sydney.
Considering coach Craig Bellamy and his Big Three had grown accustomed to sitting on top of the NRL tree at this stage of the season – the pre-Origin season – it was a rabbit-hole they certainly weren’t used to.
But a cliffhanger against another stubborn Manly side was the first of two reminders that this once-in-a-generation trio of superstars weren’t yet ready to join the lengthy list of NRL mistfits.
The second came from skipper Cameron Smith, on a night his battling coach was to come face to face with that helpless coaching window for the 300th time.
“The players that have been here a while were certainly conscious of what Craig’s done for us,” fullback Billy Slater after their 27-14 victory over the Rabbitohs on Friday night.

“Cam touched on before the game, he said: ‘Craig was the one that give us an opportunity. And if he didn’t give you an opportunity, he’s given you a second chance to play in the NRL.’
“I thought it was great words before we ran out and it’s exactly what he’s done. He gave me an opportunity to fulfil my dream, and instilled a great culture and work ethic in me. And we’ve got him to thank for a lot of things.”

Things like running out for a cumulative 1001st time alongside Smith, Cooper Cronk and Ryan Hoffman. A rugby league quartet that – whether it was put together fairly or not – has dominated the NRL like no other. A foursome so loyal that it was a milestone rugby league has never seen before and –with Hoffman’s departure to New Zealand in November –might never see again.
“I better go before I cry,” were Bellamy’s final words in last Friday night’s post-match press conference.

Having deflected the occasion that marked his triple-century, the one-time premiership-winning coach spoke openly about his four charges, all of whom carried their side for a much-needed victory on Friday night just before they leave for Origin camp this week.
“I know there’s been a lot on my 300th game, but it hasn’t been so well advertised that Cameron, Billy, Cooper and ‘Hoff’ played their 1000th game for the club tonight,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s ever been done in the history of the game… so they’ve been phenomenal for our club and not only are they really good players – they’re really good people as well. And it breaks my heart that Ryan won’t be with us next year.

“But their effort tonight typified what they’ve been doing for the past 10, 11, 12 – and in Cam’s case – 13 years. That’s a thing that should be really admired in what these guys have done for this club.”

A fortnight ago against Manly, the Storm conceded a penalty and the cameras panned to Bellamy, where he stood up, churned out a couple of expletives, picked up his suit jacket and looked headed to run out on the AAMI Park pitch itself.
Instead, he took a few moments in the corridors to gather himself and believe in his side, just like they trust in him.

“Milestones are important to those individuals and if they’re important to those individuals in our club, then they’re important to us,” Slater said.

“He’s an emotional, passionate coach. You see him up in the box, and he’s yelling and screaming and you can determine the words that are coming out of his mouths sometimes. But that’s just him. He loves his footy. He’s very passionate about the team and all he wants is his team to go out there and give it their best.”
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