17 years in the making: They took different roads to get here but the four remaining coaches in NRL race all deserve their placeSeptember 24, 2019
BY CURTIS WOODWARD – EDITOR
It is NRL off season 2002 and a fresh-faced rookie coach by the name of Craig Bellamy walks into dreary old Olympic Park in Melbourne to introduce himself to his Storm squad for the first time.
“Cameron is it?” Bellamy shakes hands with the players, “G’day Billy, I’m Craig.”
Bellamy tucks his clipboard under his arm pit and slides his hands into his pockets.
He begins his first address. Calm, relaxed, clear. Nobody at the Storm would realise just how infamous his speeches would become in the years ahead. His ability to get the best out of his team through sheer terror and intimidation has become the thing of legend.
Meanwhile in Sydney at the same time, a reserve grader with just four NRL games to his name is headed for the airport.
A bloke named Trent Robinson was taking up a deal with Toulouse in France after playing just one first grade game under Brian Smith at Parramatta in 2002. The second rower only managed three at Wests Tigers before that.
Who could have guessed Bellamy and Robinson would become two of the most influential, most successful coaches of the modern era all these years later?
They took the hard road. The one less travelled. Bellamy spent the 1990’s building his résumé. First a premiership as coach of the Canberra Raiders Jersey Flegg side. Then he was poached by Wayne Bennett to work under him at Brisbane Broncos. The Queensland powerhouse won grand finals in 1998 and 2000. An opportunity came knocking from Victoria. Bellamy took the job.
Robinson went to the other side of the world to begin his apprenticeship. First as a player at Toulouse, then as their coach.
He came back to Australia and worked with Brian Smith again. This time as his defensive coach at the Sydney Roosters. They made it all the way through to the grand final. Robinson returned to France to take his first top flight assignment with Catalans in the Super League.
But back in 2002, Bellamy and Robinson were nobodies.
A blip on the radar.
After a long shift at the Storm’s ‘Graveyard’ home ground, Bellamy would retire to his unfamiliar new home in Bleak City.
Flicking on Fox Sports, he sees his former mentor Bennett – the undisputed ruler of Brisbane.
Coming off back-to-back preliminary final appearances and five titles to his name already, Bennett crosses his arms, toying with the media. Bellamy sinks his head back into his notes.
30,000 feet above him, Robinson settles into his Air France flight.
He runs his eye over the back pages of The Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald.
Ricky Stuart’s Roosters have just beaten the Warriors in front of 80,130 fans.
Not bad for a first-year coach.
The Roosters under Stuart would appear in the next two grand finals but he wouldn’t win it again.
The Bennett/Broncos marriage would last a few more years – they’d produce one more little darling in 2006 – but it only patched over the cracks for a little while longer. They’d try again years later but it ended in divorce once more.
You could never have guessed the paths ahead for these four coaches back in 2002.
17 years is a bloody long time.
Today, they boast 14 premierships between them.
They are four very different men.
But they share success because they’ve been to hell as well.
By Saturday night, four will become two.
And then it will be one.
Another chapter in four incredible coaching journeys.
Join me and the Steele Sports Commentary Team this Sunday for grand final coverage of the Canterbury Cup and Jersey Flegg – live from noon on steelesports.com.au