Smith's high praise for Bellamy milestone
Storm coach Craig Bellamy joked that he'd been lucky to have a host of good footballers in his squads over the years but captain Cameron Smith says he deserves more recognition for first developing them into fine young men.
Bellamy became just the ninth coach to reach 350 first grade games in Australia on Sunday and his players responded by dishing out a 38-0 shellacking to move to the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder.
The ease of their victory was a far cry from his first game in charge in Round 1, 2003 when his team was 22-0 down after just 20 minutes – "I expected at half-time for [Storm CEO] John Ribot to have a one-way ticket back to Brisbane for me" – before coming back to win 36-32.
Players, premierships and competition points have all come and gone over the past 14 seasons but more than a winning record that stands alongside the greatest coaches the game has ever known, Smith said it is Bellamy's work off the field that defines him as a mentor.
"For the amount of accolades he receives as a coach and what he's done with football teams I think he needs to receive accolades for what he does as a person around the club for our organisation," said Smith, who himself joined the all-time top 10 for most games played with his 318th appearance for the Storm on Sunday.
"The way he's always striving to improve the place, he never wants to be run of the mill. He always strives to be the very best he can be and make everyone else at our organisation, not only in the football department but in the administration as well.
"He's always had that level of care for his players as men and their families as well but he didn't really show it too much early. He certainly does now and that's a wonderful trait of his, that first and foremost he makes sure you're OK as a person and then football is always second.
"He knows that if everything's going right away from football then you can almost guarantee that things will go right at footy and on game day.
"Very special coach, no doubt."
Prop Jordan McLean endured a horror run with hamstring injuries and was then caught up in the tragic accident to Alex McKinnon and said Bellamy's support away from football has had a major impact on him personally.
"He's been a big influence for me. I've had a few injuries and some tough times coming through the ranks and he's been very good," McLean told NRL.com.
"It's just the respect that all the players have for him. If he does give you a spray you know it's for the right reasons. You don't take it to heart, just get on with your job and try and improve each week.
"One of the big things around the club is that they choose players to come to the club who are humble and hard-working and he works a lot with us off the field about being humble and appreciating that we're playing rugby league for a living and doing what we love."
The quartet of Bellamy, Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater will go down in rugby league folklore as one of the more influential combinations ever assembled at one club for an extended period of time.
Between them they have contributed an astonishing 1,230 games to the history of the Storm as a club, Bellamy admitting that their bond extends far beyond what they have achieved on the football field.
"We've had our ups, we've had our downs, what happens in footy is what happens in life but it's been a great run," said Bellamy, who remains contracted to the Storm through until the end of the 2018 season by which time he should trail only Wayne Bennett, Tim Sheens and Brian Smith for most games coached.
"I've been very blessed to be at a wonderful club and I've had some wonderful people to work with, especially players.
"I've been very blessed to have worked with the players I've worked with, especially these guys that have been with me long term.
"It's a pretty special bond to be quite honest. Try not to do them too many favours and show them they're favourites but they've done a lot for our club and they've done a lot for me too."