Storm coach Craig Bellamy has opened up on his early days working under Wayne Bennett at the Broncos and revealed the Raiders backflipped on him at the eleventh hour back in 2002.
Bellamy also revealed he probably won’t remain head coach through to the end of his contract, which expires in 2026, and spoke about his retirement plans.
Bellamy sat down with Matty Johns ahead of Thursday’s clash with the Rabbitohs — his 500th as a head coach.
He said back when he started in 2003 he would have been thrilled if he was told he’d be still at the helm 10 years later.
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Fast forward 19 years, heading into his 20th season, Bellamy is at the top of the coaching game.
“It was my first head coaching job and there was a record around then that it didn’t take much to get sacked or changed over,” Bellamy told Matty Johns’ Face-to-Face.
“I didn’t think too much about that, I just decided to put my head down, do the best I can and see what happens.”
A lot happened.
The 62-year-old is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all time and has led the Storm to three premierships and five minor premierships.
But once upon a time, before he was a coaching extraordinaire, he was a first-grade rugby league player.
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BELLAMY THE PLAYER
Bellamy played 150 games for the Raiders throughout the 80s and 90s, but by his own accord, he was nowhere near as dominant as he is in the coaching world.
Asked how others would describe him as a player, Bellamy said: “I used to try hard… that’d be the nicest thing they’d say about me as a player I reckon.
“I wasn’t a very skilful player, I wasn’t very big or that physical, but I was fit and that was probably my strength as a player.”
While at the Raiders, Bellamy was coached by Wayne Bennett for the 1987 season when the Green Machine made their first ever grand final.
“We got on really good… he’d be someone that would describe me as someone that tried hard. He used like fit guys in his team so we got on really good,” he said.
“But I was really disappointed I didn’t finish the whole year with him because when I got injured I wasn’t doing much training at all.
“I learned a lot off him early, but having said that I learned a lot off (co-coach) Don (Furner) as well and the two of them together made a real good combination.”
THE ROOKIE COACH
Bellamy’s first-ever coaching gig was with Canberra’s under 21s side and they made the finals but were knocked out in the first week.
He recalled being a “cranky bastard” but thoroughly enjoyed the gig working under the Raiders head coach at the time, Tim Sheens.
“We had some good kids there like Simon Woolford and Luke Davico. I found it a bit of fun as well,” he said.
“’Sheensy would come in and say ‘can you come to training an hour early so we can have a chat about what you think about them’. He was always asking questions about them and giving me advice on coaching too, which was obviously really handy as well.
“I remember I probably enjoyed the year more than anything else, which is a bit strange to me when you’re coaching.”
Bellamy enjoyed an apprenticeship that not many coaches can match. He learned his trade under Bennett and Sheens—both also in the conversation for greatest coach of all time.
“I was really lucky to have the education like that, to have what I think was five years under Tim and then five under Wayne, I don’t think you can get too much of a better education now,” he said.
“But having said that they were just so different — which is probably a good thing. Wayne was a relationship (coach), he was about effort and about the team. Tim was quite technical and tactical, which was great as well.
“I think I sort of got the best of both worlds. I’ll always be so grateful to those two guys for how they helped me and my coaching career.”
EARLY DAYS AT BRONCOS
Bellamy joined Bennett and the Broncos in 1998 as the performance co-ordinator where his job was to get the players fit.
Once he worked his magic during the pre-season he found he had a lot of free time when the season kicked off so he took it upon himself to help out Bennett — and learned quickly that Bennett has his own unique style of coaching.
“Through the pre-seasons I was really busy but I found during the season Wayne sort of took over and I didn’t have that much to do so I just started trying to help with the coaching because he didn’t have any assistant coaches — he just did it on his own,” he said.
“The strange thing (was) that he never did any work on the opposition, where Tim knew everything about the opposition. So I started doing a bit on the opposition and giving him some notes.
“I remember one day I went to him and said ‘why don’t you do anything on the opposition?’ and he did the Clint Eastwood stare. He was standing over me and said ‘hey just listen here Craig, if we play good the opposition is going to have to play real good to beat us’ and then he just walked away.
“I’m thinking ‘yeah there’s Tallis, Langer, Webcke and Renouf so he’s probably right there’. So that’s how I got into a little bit of coaching at the Broncos.
“I started to do the opposition and slowly but surely I did a bit more of it and that’s how I ended up being a coach.
“Wayne gave me a real good tip real early in my time there (on how to coach great players).
“I remember we were doing a warm-up in pre-season so the players were just stretching. I’m looking around and I see Alf (Langer) leaning on the fence, there’s some bloke walking past and he’s having a yarn while everyone is stretching.
“I was only two weeks into my career at the Broncos so I was about to walk over to him and Wayne pulled me up and said ‘where are you going?’ I said ‘I’m just going to get Alf to do some stretching’ and he said ‘just leave him alone, that’s what he does.’
“It was good advice, I probably haven’t gone to that length but I reckon there’s some of those great players, they know what it takes for them to be at their best. Sometimes you might give them a little hint, but other times you just let them do it themselves.”
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JOURNEY TO THE STORM: TIGERS AND THE RAIDERS
Bellamy picked up his first head coaching gig with the Storm but things could have worked out very differently.
He revealed the Tigers made him an offer, which he knocked back, and the Raiders basically guaranteed him the job in 2002 before they backflipped on him.
Bellamy confirmed he was all set to take the Raiders job before he went to Matthew Elliott instead
“I actually got driven to the airport when I had the interview and they said ‘mate, you’ll basically get it we’ve just got to interview someone else, but you’ll get it’.
“Then three days later I got the phone call. I was really disappointed actually, but having said that those things happen. The Raiders at the time had to make a decision on who they thought would be the best for the job.”
The Tigers also tried their luck with Bellamy but he wasn’t quite ready to move his life so knocked back the offer. At first he wondered if that was the right decision and questioned if he’d ever be offered another head coaching job… and then the Storm called.
“I got an offer off the Tigers too but I knocked that back because at that time my wife wanted our kids to finish school before we moved anywhere so she wasn’t going to come down,” he said.
“But when I did knock that job back I felt like I might not get a (head coaching) offer again. So I was very lucky about six weeks later the Melbourne offer came and I was pretty keen to take it then.”
Bellamy signed a five-year extension last July. There’s a catch though — at any point after this seasons he can step down as head coach but continue in a part-time role with the club.
Asked if he’ll still be coaching in 2025, Bellamy said “no, probably not.”
“I’ve got a decision to make soon, to be quite honest.
“If I do give up the full-time role, it gives the club plenty of time to get a replacement.
“I will still be involved in a part-time role, there will be a couple of different things. I’ll be working with the coaches a bit, but I think I’ll be doing a bit of corporate stuff as well and hopefully helping the club in general.
“It obviously won’t be as full-time and won’t be as flat-out.
“When I do retire, I’ll probably head up to Coolangatta, I really like it up there and my daughter lives up there. That’s the place I want to retire, it’s close to their airport so it’s not too far when I do have to come down.
“I’ve got to make that decision in the next month or two and we’ll go from there.”
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When he looks back on the type of coach he was in his debut season, Bellamy believes he was rather ruthless — but believes it was absolutely necessary at the time.
“I was a bit Gung ho,” he conceded.
“I’ve always been honest but sometimes I suppose expressing things to players with a rough edge instead of doing it in a mature way sort of vented my spleen straight away instead of thinking about it for a bit then doing it. But we all learn from our mistakes.
“Having said that, I think — and I haven’t said this before — when I first came here I had to be a bit like that.
“I know this is probably a horrible word but I reckon we had some softness in us at that time. Watching some of the footy they had played the 12 months before and the way that they turned up to pre-season training, I just felt like we needed to toughen up before we worried too much about the tactical and technical side of the game.
“With all due respect, I don’t want to give myself a rap, but I think I was right as well. That first pre-season was a tough pre-season but I think it needed to be.”