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Telstra and the NRL - celebrating 20 years of a great partnership

Over the past 20 years, the Telstra Premiership has witnessed many great partnerships - both on and off the field.

Off the field, there has been the winning partnership between Telstra and the NRL, while on it, some great combinations have been formed.

Here are five of the strongest partnerships of the last two decades.

Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith at the Storm.
Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith at the Storm. ©NRL Photos

Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith

The greatest player of his era joined forces with the man they call "Bellyache" in 2003 and success has been a given at Melbourne ever since. They have driven the standards for two decades and the pay-off has been premierships in 2012, 2017 and 2020.

They nurtured an array of superstar players including Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Munster, Greg Inglis, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Josh Addo-Carr and Jesse Bromwich while helping to establish the Storm brand in a sporting market dominated by AFL. Smith is Bellamy's eyes and ears on the field and will surely take up the clipboard himself one day and be a huge success.

Broncos greats Shane Webcke and Petero Civoniceva.
Broncos greats Shane Webcke and Petero Civoniceva. ©NRL Photos

Shane Webcke and Petero Civoniceva

The Broncos bookends provided Wayne Bennett with the perfect mix of raw power and ball-playing skills in nine seasons together between 1998 and 2006. They shared a premiership together in 1998 and another in Webcke's farewell game in 2006 and were central figures in Queensland's 2001 Origin series win.

In Kangaroos colours they came to the fore in the epic 2003 Ashes series with Webcke starting and Petero providing impact off the bench as Australia came from behind in all three Test matches to win 22-18, 23-20 and 18-12. Two of the toughest front-rowers the game has seen.

Premiership winners Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott.
Premiership winners Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott. ©NRL Photos

Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott

JT and Thumper enjoyed a great run for North Queensland, Queensland and Australia. Thurston is one of the game's most-decorated players while Scott was the benchmark for front-rowers for an extended period of time. While Thurston engineered the magic in Towsnville, more often than not that came on the back of Scott's hard yakka.

When Thurston retired in 2018, he had four Dally M Medals, 38 Tests, 37 Origin appearances and 323 NRL matches for Canterbury and North Queensland. Let's not forget the 2222 NRL points. Scott's superb career ended with 22 Test matches, 22 games for Queensland and 268 for the Cowboys.

Dragons duo Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier.
Dragons duo Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier.

Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper

Dangerous in attack and damaging in defence, "Gaz" and "Coops" linked up at the Red V in 2000 and proceeded to thrill Dragons fans for nine years before Gasnier made the move to rugby union.

Their partnership was revived in 2010 when Gasnier returned and they helped the joint venture to its first premiership, storming home in the second half to beat the Roosters. Gasnier would finish his career with 92 tries for the Dragons while Cooper racked up 124 four-pointers.

They made their Origin debuts together in Game Three, 2004 as the Blues wrapped up a series win and were front and centre again as NSW went back-to-back in '05.

Tony Puletua and Joe Galuvao in 2003.
Tony Puletua and Joe Galuvao in 2003. ©NRL Photos

Tony Puletua and Joe Galuvao

Who could forget Penrith's "Hair Bears"? Cult figures in a youthful Panthers outfit that delivered the club its second premiership in 2003, they did it all with a smile.

"Joe and I played Junior Kiwis together in 1997. He was the fullback. We kept in touch and when Joe signed to play with Penrith in 2003 we just hit it off. We built a special bond and both worked as hard as we could just to try to make a difference for our team," Puletua told NRL.com in 2020.

"We never really spoke about the hair. At the back end of the 2002 season, for some reason, I hadn’t cut my hair for a while and I just thought I would let it go and see what happened. I went on the tour later in the year with the Kiwis and we toured all around the UK, then when I came back for the 2003 pre-season and got to the training complex I noted Joey had been growing his hair as well ... we just thought we would let it go and see what happened."

Parramatta's Bankwest Stadium.
Parramatta's Bankwest Stadium. ©NRL Photos