Bellamy's message ahead of Cronk farewell
Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy knows part of an era is coming to an end but wants his side to focus on advancing to the 2017 NRL grand final for the sake of everyone, not only for departing halfback Cooper Cronk.
Bellamy admitted the scenes pre-game surrounding skipper Cameron Smith's 356-game milestone against the Eels brought upon an added weight of pressure on the club to perform and the task is only set to grow bigger in Friday night's preliminary final clash against the Broncos.
Cronk is set to play his final game in Melbourne colours at AAMI Park and pending the result with the Australian No.7's future still up in the air – potentially a final game in club colour's altogether.
"Without putting any pressure on the group, you don't get these opportunities too often," Bellamy said on Thursday.
"I think it's more the opportunity we've created for ourselves. That's been our main focus – this is about everyone. Next year you don't know where you're going to be.
"Perhaps there were [nerves] with Cameron breaking that record and the boys being edgy because of that – hearing about it all week and not wanting to let him down.
"Billy [Slater] said earlier in the week everyone's got nerves at this time of the year and if you haven't, you're probably not human. It's just a matter of how you handle those nerves and make sure you're focused."
There is no questioning 2018 will be Bellamy's most challenging season to date with no Cronk and the potential retirement of Slater.
While the club has prepared to farewell their Australian halfback for months, the reality was starting to sink in for the premiership-winning coach after 321 games of mentoring him.
"We didn't know what game that it was going to be but knew it was coming. We're not going to be able to play with Cooper in our team anymore at AAMI Park and that in itself is sad.
"We're going to miss Cooper, and Billy or Cameron when they go too without a doubt."
When asked if he was worried about the challenge ahead of replacing the trio for the future, the coach hoped it was a smooth transition.
"Hopefully not [too much trouble]," Bellamy laughed.
"I've had a few challenges over the years and that scares me a bit.
"I don't think we will see the likes of those players again but we'll move on and hopefully look at guys that will step up."
With more focus on Friday night's grand final qualifier, Brisbane will arrive in Melbourne with a host of representative players of their own and boosted by the return of Australian fullback Darius Boyd.
Four players in the Storm line-up - Josh Addo-Carr, Curtis Scott, Felise Kaufusi and Slade Griffin – are the only inclusions named by Bellamy on Tuesday yet to play in a preliminary final.
Despite a weight of finals experience in their favour, Bellamy says every year brings upon a new challenge for him as a coach.
"They're always a different group and something different about the team," he said.
"Sometimes the ages and experience of players – some have played finals and some haven't.
"It's a different dynamic. And sometimes you play two games to a prelim and other times you go straight through."
He believes the first-half lessons against the Eels will help the more inexperienced players heading into the Broncos game.
"There were things we weren't happy with [like] the last 20 minutes of the first half," Bellamy said.
"We've dealt with that and they'll be better for the experience.
"There were a lot of positives to come out of it, to be behind at half-time and then come out in the second half and get in front – it was a tremendous result."