Cameron Smith fielded almost as many questions on Craig Bellamy’s future as he did about his own at Monday’s captains call but regardless of whether the Storm coach moves to Brisbane it is clear the big brother-little brother relationship between the two clubs has now been turned on its head.
After removing Wayne Bennett’s 30-year grip on the club to appoint a new-age coach in Anthony Seibold, the Broncos are now seeking to adopt the culture of a team modelled on their own success and have turned to Bellamy and Melbourne CEO Dave Donaghy to lift them from their lowest ebb.
With a wooden spoon now in their possession, the Broncos are set to appoint Kevin Walters as coach and Bellamy has confirmed that he has been approached about a football director’s role from 2022, while Donaghy has also been linked to the NRL’s former benchmark club.
It is a move that raises questions about both clubs, with the Storm unlikely to have trouble finding a replacement for Bellamy in 2022 as few coaching changes are expected next year given five teams have new mentors and Jason Demetriou has been appointed at South Sydney.
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Should Bellamy join the Broncos they will have finally got their man after believing his departure from Brisbane in 2003 to take up the head coaching role in Melbourne would prepare him to succeed Bennett as their next coach.
The Storm and Broncos were then owned by News Corp and Brisbane was considered the flagship team of the competition, while there were doubts about Melbourne’s survival, but those perceptions have since changed dramatically.
Rejecting approaches to return to Brisbane on three previous occasions, Bellamy has taken Melbourne to eight grand finals and helped turn the Storm into arguably Australia’s No.1 sporting franchise.
Finishing second this season, the Storm will be one win away from another grand final appearance if they beat Parramatta at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night and not even Smith’s impending retirement appears likely to be a setback given the succession planning at the club.
Melbourne chairman Matt Tripp wants Bellamy to remain involved beyond next season and after speaking to him at 9pm Sunday he is confident the super coach has not yet made any decision about his future.
“I want to be very clear and on the record to state that it is rubbish and it is not true that Craig has signed or committed to the Broncos,” Tripp told SEN Melbourne. “I’m 100 per cent confident it is not the case."
Tripp has previously called out the Broncos for approaches to key members of the Storm’s off-field staff and founding Melbourne CEO Chris Johns agrees.
“What the Broncos are doing now disappoints me a bit because they should have been building this stuff themselves instead of trying to rob the bank in Melbourne,” said Johns, who left Brisbane to join John Ribot at the Storm in 1998.
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“When we went to Melbourne, the blueprint was Brisbane but we had the wonderful opportunity to not only implement the great things we learned from the Broncos but other clubs as well. We didn’t rob the vault.
“If the Broncos want to be anything now the trick isn’t to rob things out of people’s vaults, it is to build things yourself. That is what we did and that is what the Broncos have got to start doing again.”
Thirst for success
Ribot, Johns and inaugural coach Chris Anderson borrowed from the Broncos and Bulldogs to create the Storm culture but Bellamy and long-serving GM of football Frank Ponissi have had the greatest influence.
Every try from round 20
Under Bellamy, Melbourne’s record in matches against the Broncos since their 2006 grand final loss to Brisbane is a remarkable 26 wins and just four losses.
“We put some really good foundations down but Craig Bellamy took those foundations and built something special,” said Johns, who is now chairman of the Brisbane Broncos Old Boys.
“What makes Craig Bellamy special is his work ethic and his unquestionable thirst for success. That’s what was paramount with the Broncos and the early Storm, and he carried on that tradition.
“We didn’t try to get Wendell Sailor and we didn’t try to get Darren Lockyer or any of the Broncos football staff. We wanted to build the next Wendell Sailor and that was our first sales pitch to Marcus Bai.
“We saw a young energetic player at the Gold Coast and we said to Marcus ‘we want to make you the Wendell Sailor of Melbourne’. That’s what sold him. It was never about the cheque book.
“Glenn Lazarus was an old war horse at the end of the career who had that fire in his belly to build something and we had some of the best youngsters in the game like Brett Kimmorley, Scott Hill, Matt Geyer, Rodney Howe and Robbie Kearns.”
Another person with links to both clubs is Stephen Kearney, who played for the Storm and began his coaching career with the club under Bellamy
Kearney, who was an assistant to Bennett at the Broncos before leaving to take on the head coaching role at the Warriors in 2017, is returning to Melbourne next year to reunite with Bellamy after being sacked by the New Zealand-based club in July.
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“I hadn’t been a part of the Melbourne Storm club for years and three of the senior people in their football department were on the phone or texting to see that I was all right,” Kearney said. “I just thought that is what the Storm is about. Their 'Old Boys' program is the strongest I have seen.
“They had an 'Old Boys' day up on the Sunshine Coast a few weeks ago when they played the Cowboys and it was only Queensland-based [former] players who could get there but we had 18 or 20 people.
“They are just peripheral things that make the club and the culture so special. It is just a small part but an important part of the operation they do so well.”
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The Storm rarely sign a big-name player but have a reputation for recruiting young talent and developing them into stars, as they have done with Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, Adam Blair, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Munster and Ryan Papenhuyzen.
Others such as Brian Norrie, Brett Finch and Clint Newton have been given the chance to revive their career in Melbourne but no matter who the player is their first off-season with the club involves a stint working in a physical job to make them appreciate how fortunate they are.
Whether Bellamy leaves at the end of next season or later, those traditions are likely to remain and Kearney said Ponissi deserved credit for his influence since joining the Storm in 2007.
“Obviously as critical as Craig has been to the operation, I think Frank Ponissi has been really important too,” Kearney said. “He does a wonderful job in his role as GM of football, which certainly helps everyone around the footy club.”
If Bellamy was to leave the Storm at the end of next season or retire from coaching as he intends to do, Melbourne will have a number of options to consider as his replacement, with much sought-after Sydney Roosters assistant Craig Fitzgibbon off contract, along with Bennett and Michael Maguire.
The Warriors (Nathan Brown), Dragons (Anthony Griffin), Bulldogs (Trent Barrett), Cowboys (Todd Payten) and Broncos will all have new coaches in 2021, while Justin Holbrook has re-signed at the Titans and Demetriou will succeed Bennett at Souths.
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Trent Robinson (Roosters), Ivan Cleary (Panthers), Ricky Stuart (Raiders) and Brad Arthur (Eels) are entrenched in their roles, while Adam O’Brien is in his first season at the Knights.
Maguire (Tigers), Manly’s Des Hasler and Cronulla’s John Morris are the only NRL head coaches off contract next season, besides Bellamy and Bennett.
However, after rejecting approaches from the Knights, Warriors, Cowboys and Dragons because he was contracted to the Roosters, Fitzgibbon will also be available after next season.
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Storm assistant Jason Ryles, who is leaving to work alongside England rugby union coach Eddie Jones, would also be a candidate, along with Kearney, who has coached the Eels and Warriors, and took New Zealand to World Cup success in 2008.
Tripp said he was hopeful Bellamy would remain with the Storm in some capacity and family ties may help keep him at the club as son Aaron is on the coaching staff and he and wife Wendy have grand children in Melbourne.
“There have been no decisions made, but I’d be really confident that discussions will lead to Craig being a part of the Melbourne Storm in 2022 and beyond,” he said.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.