As Melbourne and Craig Bellamy prepare to visit Brisbane for the umpteenth time for another showdown with the Broncos, it is worth considering the club and their enduring coach’s massive contribution to the success of the Queensland Maroons.
Bellamy, a former NSW coach, would see the irony in the fact the best players of a generation, which he mentored for well over a decade, went on to become Maroons greats and be front and centre of the state’s post-2006 Origin success.
In three consecutive seasons from 2001-2003, the Broncos contributed a record 11 players to the Maroons in four State of Origin games. It was a theme for many seasons, but over time, the Broncos recruitment of players with southern connections, along with New Zealand qualified players, saw that representation diminish.
The Maroons needed a club to fill the breach and since Bellamy’s tenure at Melbourne began in 2003, the Storm have delivered in ways beyond Queensland powerbrokers wildest dreams.
It is the quality, more than the quantity, of players from Melbourne that held the Maroons together for so long.
Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis have on many occasions made the point that they would not be the players they became without the invaluable contribution of Bellamy’s coaching and the Melbourne Storm culture and system. Between the four of them, they clocked 127 Origin games for Queensland.
Their representation in Maroons squads meant that in effect, the Storm filled a third of the Queensland run-on team for a decade or more, taking into account that Cronk’s elevation to the starting side did not happen until Darren Lockyer’s retirement in 2011.
In doing so, the Storm became known as the de-facto “fourth” Queensland team.
With the Smith and co era now gone, it is not as though the Storm have stopped being a vital conduit for players into the Maroons.
In the current squad Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi, Will Chambers and more recently Christian Welch have worn the Queensland jersey.
Munster looms as a mainstay of the Maroons side in a key position for years to come and Kaufusi and Welch both have long careers at Origin level ahead of them.
The Storm will continue to be integral to Maroons plans. The troubles of the Titans in recent seasons would be of concern to the Maroons on several fronts. While Jai Arrow will remain one of the first forwards picked into the future, selectors are understood to prefer to name players from winning teams in representative sides where possible.
The inconsistency of club sides is often a reflection on the individuals who are not aiming up. It is why at the start of the season Maroons coach Kevin Walters said he wanted all of the key Maroons in playmaking positions to be in their best form ahead of Game I of the series. That was not the case, but Walters knows that he can rely on his Storm contingent to be in form on a personal basis and part of a winning culture year after year.
That reliance will only increase in the future as the landscape at the Broncos on the player front continues to evolve away from Maroons-qualified players.
Already the Broncos have Blues qualified Payne Haas, Matt Lodge, Kotoni Staggs and Jack Bird on their books. Alex Glenn and Jamayne Isaako are New Zealanders and Tevita Pangai Jnr has committed to Tonga for the immediate future.
The Storm will continue to be the “fourth” Queensland side for some time yet and the Maroons will be hoping it continues well beyond the Bellamy era.