RICKY STUART – SUNDAY TELEGRAPH COLUMN

Craig Bellamy and his Storm-troopers will face their day of reckoning

Ricky Stuart
The Sunday Telegraph
September 23, 2012 12:00AM

 

Craig Bellamy leads the Storm squad to a press conference in 2010 after the salary cap rorting story broke. Picture: Jay Town Source: Herald Sun

TWO years back, when the Melbourne Storm were going through their salary-cap problems, feelings were running high all around the game.

It was hard to know what was right and what was wrong.

Who was right and who was wrong, as well.

As owners of the Storm and half-owners of the NRL, News Ltd (publishers of The Sunday Telegraph) were embarrassed and more than a little angry at what had happened, and in those early days nobody knew what exactly was the right way out.

It was clear that Melbourne had to be punished. Two premierships were stripped from them as well as a minor premiership.  While it was eventually decided that the Storm would also play the rest of the competition without premiership points, some were wondering whether that was severe enough on the individuals involved.

The other consideration that News Ltd had to consider was that it was important for Melbourne to be in the competition, and while they had to be penalised, it couldn’t be severe enough that it would threaten their future welfare.

Rugby league needs a team in Melbourne.

For these reasons all sorts of scenarios were being thrown around. While coach Craig Bellamy made it clear he had no knowledge of the salary-cap rorting, some considered whether Bellamy, as the head coach, had to go like their chief executive was about to.

I was talking to John Hartigan at the time, then the CEO and chairman of News Ltd who is a personal friend.

While I understood punishment had to occur, I also knew the significance of the punishment imposed and the effect it would have on the club, and how tough it would be for the players and coach to come back from.

I told John that the best person to pull Melbourne out of the mess they were in was Craig Bellamy.

No matter which way you cut it, it was obvious the Storm were going to lose significant talent from their roster and would sink heavily into a rebuilding stage, which is hard enough for any club, let alone one that is battling away on the AFL’s doorstep.

Storm big three

Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk congratulate Billy Slater of the Storm after he scored a try in the second half during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the Manly Sea Eagles. Picture: Getty Images Source: The Daily Telegraph

That has been the remarkable thing about Melbourne’s performance this season.

So much talent was shown the door

For different reasons, the Storm were just like the other three teams left in the competition with them heading into this weekend’s grand final qualifiers.

Manly didn’t so much rebuild a roster as they rebuilt from the wreckage of last season, when they did all that hard work to win a premiership then pulled the pin on a grenade and blew themselves up in the process.

Souths have finally found direction to go with their rebuilding programs.

Even before last night’s game against the Bulldogs, the Rabbitohs had a season they would give a big tick to.

It was certainly a pass mark for the club.

And while we all expected the Bulldogs to improve, it is fair to say they have over-achieved this season as well.

Not a lot has been said about the tremendous depth Des Hasler walked into – they also finished minor premiers in Toyota Cup and NSW Cup – but Hasler had the ability to harness them and get them all heading in the same direction.

What particularly impressed me about the Storm on Friday night was Cooper Cronk’s performance.

We all know Melbourne’s big three of Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith.

They are as consistent as they are talented.

Forced into a massive cleanout during 2010, Bellamy did all he could to keep these three players and then surveyed the landscape to see who he could bring in around them. The big three do their job every week, but on Friday night Cronk stepped up and put together one of the great halfback performances.

From kicking to taking the line on, challenging the defence, he put it all together for his team.

The big test for the Storm in Sunday’s grand final will come around those three men.

Every other Melbourne player, the Bryan Norries, Gareth Widdops and those sorts of players, will have to be close to perfect with their performance on Sunday if Melbourne are to win.

They are more than capable of it.

All the trademarks we look for from Melbourne – the precision and attention to detail – were all there against Manly.

What makes it hard to predict ahead of Sunday’s decider is that, as good as Melbourne were, Manly were as bad.

It makes it hard to draw a perfect formline heading in to the decider, leaving us with only one certainty.

No matter who wins, it sure has been some effort form them to get here.

 

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