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How Bellamy created a mindset that has Storm on verge of history

“Be ready”.

That’s the mindset that Melbourne players and staff say is behind their tilt at the record for the most consecutive wins in 114 years of premiership history.

With last Thursday night’s defeat of Canberra surpassing the 2020 Panthers and the 2002 Bulldogs for the longest winning streak of the NRL era, the Storm are this weekend aiming to equal the record of the legendary 1975 Roosters team, who achieved 19 consecutive wins.

It’s a remarkable feat given the retirement of influential long-serving captain Cameron Smith, a heavy injury toll that has denied Craig Bellamy from fielding his strongest line-up so far this season and the ongoing disruptions caused by COVID-19.

The Storm have not played a home game at AAMI Park since April but are unbeaten in Queensland since 2017, and have achieved their winning record with star players Ryan Papenhuyzen, Harry Grant, Dale Finucane and Nelson Asofa-Solomona sidelined for extended periods during the season.

Finucane and halfback Jahrome Hughes will be rested from Thursday night’s clash with the Gold Coast Titans after failing to finish the match against the Raiders due to HIAs.

Storm to rest Hughes and Finucane

Yet Bellamy has prepared his players to quickly adapt to any situation they are confronted with – whether it’s on or off the field.

“It is something that Craig and all the coaches and the players drive continually,” Melbourne GM of football Frank Ponissi said.

“Be ready. Don’t wait for your opportunity and then get yourself prepared. Be prepared and then when you get your opportunity take it'.

“It’s not a motto or a mantra, it is just a mindset. It is a mentality that has been proven during Origin for a number of years, because we know we are going to have players away, and it is something that has been adopted for the whole season now.”

The same attitude enabled the Storm to win the 2020 premiership after being forced to relocate to the Sunshine Coast for most of the season due to the extended COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne.

At the time, Bellamy and his players didn’t know how long they would be away but he told them when the Telstra Premiership was suspended in March, 2020 to ensure they were ready for anything.

Melbourne players had to pack their bags at short notice to move to Albury for training ahead of the competition’s May 28 resumption and then relocated in Queensland for the remainder of the season.

This season, the Storm moved temporarily to the Sunshine Coast and returned to prepare for the July 17 homecoming against Newcastle at AAMI Stadium – only to have to quickly pack their bags again to return to Queensland.    

“It has been like that for 18 months, since the lockdown started last year,” Ponissi said. “Something that is not spoken about too much is how we had a really good season last year because the mentality when we broke up in late March 2020 was just to ‘be ready for a call at any minute’.

“We didn’t know if it would be four weeks, six weeks, six months or whenever, but there was a big onus put on the players during the break to look after themselves and maintain their own fitness.

“The mentality was that when we get the call you are not going to have much notice, so you need to be ready and that is how it turned out. The players came back in really good condition and I think the mindset was really set there.”

Momentum before milestones

Not many players involved in an extended winning streak have experienced one previously, but Melbourne captain Jesse Bromwich was a member of the team that won 15 consecutive matches between round 22, 2012 and round seven, 2013.

Bromwich doesn’t subscribe to the theory that it is better to suffer a loss before the finals to avoid the pressure to continue winning but he insisted the Storm weren’t focused on eclipsing the record set in 1975 by Eastern Suburbs, who thrashed St George 38-0 in the grand final.

“The main focus for us should be getting better every week and building some momentum coming into the back end of the year,” Bromwich said. “We've still got a lot to improve on and we are working hard on that.

“Our defence has been quite strong … but if we can keep our attack going and sharpen up a few things, and keep playing the way we know we can play, I don't think you have to take any losses, you just have to build and gain momentum heading in.”

Remarkably, five of the longest winning runs since 1908 have occurred since the establishment of the NRL in 1998, with Penrith unbeaten in 17 matches until last year’s grand final and Cronulla winning 15 consecutive games in the lead up to their historic 2016 premiership triumph.

Canterbury also won 17 consecutive matches in 2002 before being stripped of their points for salary cap breaches and former Bulldogs backrower Jamie Feeney, who is now in charge of the Titans NRLW team, said the players were galvanised under the coaching of Steve Folkes.

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“If you have got a strong group and a strong leader, which we did in Folkesy, you are always going to be in the fight,” Feeney recalled.

“He kind of had a one-track mind that we were going to train hard and we were going to do whatever you possibly can to win a game.

“Regardless of what was going on off the field we knew we had done the work to win and it was just a matter of us going out there and doing our jobs to the best we possibly could.

“Having played under Craig and coached under him when the Central Coast Storm were their feeder team I just know that he is so good at bringing their group together.

“The players in the Storm system know exactly what each person’s job is and they just go out there and do their jobs. No one thinks they have to work harder for someone else because every week they all put in, and back at the Dogs when we had that streak that is all we did.

“Everyone just knew what they were doing, everyone had trust that the other person was going to work as hard as they were willing to and we were a really good team. Melbourne are always a good team because they just find a way to get the best out of players regardless of who takes the field.”

Great coach, great systems

Queensland Origin forward Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, who moved from Melbourne to the Gold Coast last season, said Bellamy’s influence ensured they would always be strong, while Titans team-mate Tyrone Peachey praised the Storm’s recruitment and development system.

“Even though Cameron is a big loss for them this year, I always expected the Storm to play well because they have got Craig there,” Fa'asuamaleaui said.

“They have still got the best coach and they have still some very good players there. He is a good coach and they have got the likes of Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane who have taken over that leadership role.

“They are a good team and it is going to be a good challenge for us to test ourselves against the best this weekend. It would be a massive win for us, we need it, and I have got a heap of mates in that team so if we do stop them it would be good bragging rights when I speak to them.”

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Peachey said the Storm were the benchmark for rival teams and Bellamy’s ability to turn journeyman players at rival clubs into stars was the envy of the NRL.

“They are such a good organisation and they have so many good players,” Peachey said. “Everyone who goes there is transformed into such good talents. It is such a good system.

“They have got good coaches and good players so it is going to be a tough game, even though they are resting a few.”

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.

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