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Adam O'Brien and Brad Arthur started out together under the goalposts and in the pub.

As captain-coach of Group 7's Batemans Bay Tigers, Arthur didn't win a game that first 1997 season.

"Albion Park beat us by 100 one day, I did my knee early in the year, tried to play on and didn't take my first year too seriously," Arthur recalls.

"Adam's old man Mick ran the Bayview Hotel for a long time, and I spent too much time there in the first year. Then the second year we went alright, we recruited a few players and made the finals."

As an aggressive ballplaying hooker and lock, O'Brien followed Arthur to Cairns Brothers, then down to Melbourne in 2007 when a coaching streak began to develop.

When Craig Bellamy weighed up the Broncos multimillion-dollar offer to return to Brisbane in 2018 and replace Wayne Bennett, Melbourne held their own weighty internal discussions.

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After a decade-long apprenticeship, O'Brien emerged as the heir to Australian sport's most professional outfit should Bellamy make the move to Red Hill.

Instead, O'Brien's 6534-kilometre coaching journey, from one end of the eastern seaboard to the other and back, has landed him in Newcastle.

Two years with glamour-club and reigning premiers the Roosters added further polish to a coach already NRL-ready, but the publican's son is fast finding his home in the Steel City.

"Clubs and coaches are a reflection of each other, and that's a very good fit," says Frank Ponissi, Melbourne's long-time football manager.

"Adam is a very hard worker from a working-class family, and that's what Newcastle is, it's a working-class town.

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"They've had the Johns brothers and Danny Buderus, but they're born out of a tough, working-class football club."

O'Brien goes into his first clash with Bellamy boasting an unbeaten record of three wins and a draw either side of the COVID-19 shutdown.

A win over Melbourne on Saturday would make for their best start to a season since 2002.

"Irrelevant," says O'Brien.

So too his match-up with Bellamy. But the lessons gleaned during an 11-year Storm stint that ended in life membership of the club, those endure.

"Number one is work ethic. You need to work hard and you need to be consistent," O'Brien says of Bellamy's impact on him.

"They're the big things for me. If you've got a group of blokes who have a thirst for success and want to work hard, make each day count and be consistent with their prep, you're going to have a fairly good footy side, a good culture and a good club."

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O'Brien and Bellamy chat most weeks, and their first NRL clash didn't change that.

Their relationship goes back as far as Bellamy's playing days according to O'Brien, when the then-Raiders veteran presented him with a best and fairest award while he was playing in Batemans Bay's under 12s.

Having been at Melbourne for over a decade, there's very few in the Storm system, not least Saturday's 17, that don't have O'Brien's fingerprints all over them.

When he left the club for the Roosters at the end of 2018, he did so as a life member, choking back tears on stage as he thanked Bellamy for rugby league's ultimate coaching apprenticeship.

As Arthur's right-hand man a decade earlier, they took an under 20s team featuring the Bromwich brothers, Gareth Widdop, Julian O'Neill, Kevin Proctor and Jordan McLean to the 2009 premiership.

In 2017 O'Brien, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater played lead roles in overhauling Melbourne's attack, delivering the club's last premiership.

Now in charge of a rising Knights roster, O'Brien's prowess with young footballers looks like holding him in good stead.

Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"Adam and I were quite young when we went down to Melbourne, and he lived with me and my wife for a fair while until he met his partner," Arthur tells

"Because a lot of our under 20s were from Queensland and NSW, they weren't locals, we would have them over once a week.

"They'd come over for BBQs, State of Origin, my wife would cook up big feeds. Adam knows how to build relationships with younger guys outside of their football.

"So when it does come to talking footy with them, they know it's coming from a human level, it's not just about them as a football player."

There's serious shades of Bellamy in O'Brien, with both Arthur and Ponissi promising "he's got a blow-up in him when he needs it."

"He'd have one for me anyway when I was always bossing him around," Arthur says.

"He'd take exception to it sometimes."

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And Bellamy can already see shades of O'Brien, and inevitably Melbourne, starting to show in Newcastle.

"I always knew he'd make a real success of the job," Bellamy says.

"He's only had four games at the helm but you can see his stamp on them. Certainly, there's some individual things, they're the best completing team in the comp.

"And I think out of all the teams in the competition they've also got the most three-man tackles as well. It just goes to show what their mentality is defensively, getting numbers in the tackle.

"The thing I love about him, he never ever takes a shortcut. He does what's best for the team and what's best for individual players. He was destined to be a good NRL coach without a doubt."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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