Written by John Davidson
Craig Bellamy might be the greatest coach in rugby league history.
His 18 years at Melbourne Storm have yielded four premierships, eight grand final appearances and a win rate of 69%. It’s an amazing record.
His methods and creation of the triumphant club culture at the Storm have been copied by others as rivals seek to duplicate his huge success.
This has followed on to most NRL clubs seeking a Bellamy clone, or one of his apprentices, as their own head coach. If you can’t beat them, copy them. Amazingly when the season started this year five NRL clubs, almost a third of the competition, had former Bellamy assistants in charge of their teams.
At Newcastle Adam O’Brien spent many years under ‘Bellyache’, and a campaign under Trent Robinson, before joining the Knights. Stephen Kearney worked at Melbourne, as did Parramatta’s Brad Arthur. Anthony Seibold is another who spent time in the Storm system.
Perhaps the most successful Bellamy apprentice has been Michael Maguire. He won a grand final in Wigan after leaving Melbourne, then led South Sydney to a title in 2014. ‘Madge’ is now in charge of the Tigers and New Zealand.
While coaches who have learned off the 60-year-old and been influenced by him might be popular choices, they don’t always work out. Seibold is floundering at the Broncos, while Kearney has been sacked by the Warriors after a poor spell at Parramatta.
Replicating the Bellamy formula is not easy. It is not necessarily transmittable to every other individual or franchise.
What is interesting is that Bellamy himself was molded by three important, historic coaches in Don Furner, Wayne Bennett and Tim Sheens. Furner, the recently deceased Canberra icon, had Bellamy under him for many seasons in the nation’s capital. Bennett had him for just one season at the Raiders, in 1987, while Sheens was his head coach for five years at the Green Machine.
When the utility from Portland hung up his boots in 1992, he then went to work under Bennett as his right-hand man at the Broncos for many years. The methods and style of both the ‘supercoach’ and ‘Sheensy’, who both have each enjoyed huge success in their careers at both club and rep level, had a significant impact on Bellamy.
Interestingly, you can trace most of the coaches getting around in the game today having been influenced by a small number of legendary figures.
Kevin Walters, the current Queensland State of Origin boss, played under Bennett and worked with Bellamy at Melbourne. Bob Fulton, who had tremendous coaching success with Manly and the Kangaroos, coached both Des Halser and Ivan Cleary at the Sea Eagles. The Penrith boss also learned from Phil Gould while he was a player at the Roosters, as did NSW’s Brad Fittler, and Cowboys coach Paul Green.
Ricky Stuart spent almost all of his playing career under the wing of Sheens. Current Cronulla coach John Morris also played under Sheens at the Tigers. Remarkably, Green played under Sheens, Gould, Brian Smith and also Bennett when he was a crafty halfback in the 1990s and 2000s.
The influence of Smith, the former Illawarra, Hull FC, St Geogre, Bradford, Parramatta, Newcastle, Roosters and Wakefield coach cannot be underestimated.
Robinson, arguably Bellamy’s main rival as the best coach in the sport right now, learned plenty off the colourful and eccentric Smith. He played under him briefly at the Eels and then was his assistant at both the Knights and Roosters, enjoying a close bond. Robinson in turn had Justin Holbrook, the current Gold Coast coach, under him at the Chooks.
Bulldogs coach Dean Pay is another who was under Smith’s control, when a forward at Parramatta, as was the Sharks’ Morris later on when he played for the Eels. Smith’s affect on the NRL today continues.
Nearly every NRL coach today can be traced back to either playing under, or working for, Bennett, Sheens and Smith at one point in their careers. Between them those three veterans have coached more 2300 games of first-grade and representative rugby league since the 1970s.
While Bennett is the only one still coaching at the elite level in Australia the influence of this troika, and indeed that of their former disciple Bellamy, will be felt for decades to come.