The lengths NRL coach Craig Bellamy goes to for Melbourne Storm

Melbourne Storm head coach Craig Bellamy looks at the team captain Cameron Smith during a press conference at Luna Park in Sydney. Picture: AAP Image/Daniel Munoz
Melbourne Storm head coach Craig Bellamy looks at the team captain Cameron Smith during a press conference at Luna Park in Sydney. Picture: AAP Image/Daniel Munoz

If you want to get a picture of the man that Craig Bellamy is, and the esteem in which he is held at Melbourne and by those in the Storm diaspora, look no further than a weekend drive he took to Canberra and back five years ago.

The reason for the near 14-hour round trip was Brett White's surprise 30th birthday party, organised by the front-rower's wife Cassie.

A four-time grand finalist with the Storm from 2006 to 2009, Coomera boy White had a year before he switched to the Raiders, where he would play out his NRL career.

A couple of weeks before his birthday bash he had suffered a season-ending knee injury that left him physically banged up and emotionally broken.

But on his wife pressed with the birthday celebrations. White takes up the story.

"It was on a Saturday night and the Storm were playing on the Wednesday – it was an Anzac Day game [against New Zealand Warriors] – so they had to train Saturday and Sunday," says the former NSW State of Origin prop. "The party was a surprise and I've turned up and [Cassie] said, 'I've got another surprise … it will be here later'. I thought, 'Hello, what's this?'.

"At about 9 o'clock Bellyache walked in. I couldn't believe it. He's walked in and I said, 'Thanks for coming'. He said, ‘Sorry I'm late, we had to train'. He had jumped straight in a car after training and had someone drive him all the way to Canberra."

His old coach wasn't just there to make an appearance either – he stayed for hours – but ultimately he had to apply the handbrake.

"He was in the bar with me at about 3 o'clock and he said, 'Whitey, what's the time?' I said 'About three', and he sort of counted on his fingers – three, four, five, six – and said, 'I've got to get going. We've got training on in Melbourne'."

Bellamy is not the first person to go the extra mile for a friend, but this particular journey meant the world to White.

"It's easy to say, 'I can't make it because we've got to train Saturday and Sunday'," White says. "But he knew I wasn't in a great mindset with just doing my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament]. He knew it would have meant something to me and he made that effort. That's the sort of bloke he is, he'll do whatever it takes."

Ask around at Melbourne headquarters at AAMI Park and you'll hear more of the same, just different circumstances and names. This is the other side to this century's super coach. We've seen him huffing and puffing and doing his nut in the coach's box for years.

These days when it all becomes too much he'll be seen storming out the back of the box, unable to look for a moment or two, before quietly resuming his seat when the television camera has left him.

What we haven't seen is him calling Jesse Bromwich and his wife night and day, making sure they are all right after the Kiwi prop's drama in the national capital this winter, or taking a teenage Will Chambers out to dinner to ensure he is adjusting to life in a new city.

Trent Robinson said last week that he believed the role of a head coach was to be a father figure for players. Bellamy has been doing it as well as anyone for years.

"Don't get me wrong, Craig is a grumpy man and he's an angry man," says Chambers, preparing for his fourth grand final in his second stint with Melbourne.  "But he's always got a father-like heart.

"You look at any of the boys that have been here for a long time, Craig has had a big influence on them as a father. When I first started here there was no under-20s system, it was come down here and fly back to Brisbane every week and play reserve grade. It was sort of straight in the deep end. You're not a local boy, so he knew that he had to go through and make sure that you felt welcome. He and his wife Wendy took me out to dinner and made sure that I was coping OK – they knew I was a long way from home. Craig has been like my second father in a lot of ways."

Those who have been around Bellamy long enough know what they are going to get with him – or at least they thought they did, until he raised the fashion stakes to go with the football ones by donning a blue velvet jacket to pick up his fourth Dally M coach of the year award on Wednesday night.

He's a master tactician, man manager, hard worker and supreme motivator.

"The thing I always say about Craig is that he made the hair on the back of my neck stand up 127 times," says White, who has gone on to be Canberra's under-20s coach. "That's the amount of games I played for the Storm. You can probably make it 133 or something because of the times he coached me for NSW. He was able to do it week in and week out. He is a massive motivator."

Now in his 15th season at the helm of the Storm, and days away from his seventh grand final in charge, Bellamy has left a lasting imprint on scores of players including the current squad. All that he has asked in return is that they give their all. If they don't, it's fair to say they will know about it.

"When I first turned up, I turned up late [to training] a few times and I remember being blasted by him and just being scared of him for the first couple of years of my career," Bromwich says.

"But as I've come to the back end of my career he's become a bit more relaxed. I'm not sure, I might have earned the respect of him that he doesn't have to blow me up any more, because I still see him give a little bit to the younger fellas.

"He's someone that I feel very lucky to be coached by. I respect him and the way he coaches – he's the best coach I've ever had."


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