Backs against the wall, quality opponents, a prestigious title on the line and the hopeful expectation of hometown support – who better to guide players through this situation than Steven Bell.
And luckily enough for Central Highlands, as Emerald prepares to host the XXXX 47th Battalion carnival this weekend, the former Queensland Maroons centre is on hand to pass on his career lessons as coach of the A grade men’s representative side.
Taking important values from the likes of Craig Bellamy and Des Hasler in 221 first grade contests and instilling them in a playing group who won’t fully come together until game day will be his mission.
“I’ve done it a couple of times now so it was a good chance to see footy out here and pass on the knowledge that I’ve learnt to these guys, so I thought it was a win-win out here,” Bell said.
“We’re trying to get a few sessions together but it’s hard with shift work out here with seven (days) on and seven off, so it’s hard to get the team together until game day, so that’s our biggest hurdle at the moment.
“Luckily our manager is pretty good with social media, better than me, so we’ve got a group chat to be able to talk to the boys so they know what’s happening, keep them all focused.”
The 46-year-old will perhaps be drawing on the mentality his State of Origin coach Mal Meninga instilled in the squad during Bell’s time in the side, particularly going into Game II, 2006.
“We all knew what was at stake. NSW had won two in a row, people in NSW were calling for State of Origin to end, so there was a bit of pressure on us to perform, but we just went out there and knew what we had to do and had a good coaching group that focused on that job,” Bell said.
“(Meninga) said it pretty straight what he expected from you and I liked the way he ran it and when he spoke, everyone listened.
"He’d just increase the intensity each day and by the time we got to Origin, everyone was ready to go.
“It was really good, a fun experience. We just had a really good time and the way it was set up was really good.”
While he missed the third game of the 2006 series, he was back next year with a try in Game II to seal a second straight Queensland series win – a story his kids are tired of, but one he tells proudly.
The highlights continued with an NRL Grand Final win playing for Manly Sea Eagles against his old club Melbourne Storm in 2008 followed by a two-year stint in France at Catalans Dragons, before it was back to his humble roots in Emerald, where he “fell into a job and stayed here since”.
“We came back here with our parents and it just sort of worked out that way and it’s been good for the kids and it’s a good place for kids to grow up,” Bell said, now working underground in mining as an electrician.
And if you are willing to put in the effort, the pathways remains through the likes of the XXXX 47th Battalion carnival to make all those dreams he held come true even as a relatively late bloomer – Bell made his NRL debut when he was 23.
“Growing up it was a competition to get into A grade then a competition to get into ‘CH’ and go away. You were always jealous of the guys who got to wear the rep jerseys back and things like that and the good experiences they told you about, so it was definitely something I always aimed for,” he said.
“If you have a good showing at the 47th Battalion it definitely puts you on show for Hostplus Cup sides and I know myself I played for CH, got to Capras, went to Brissie Norths and it was that sort of progression, so this gives people who develop a bit later a bit of a chance of progression and it’s not the end of their footy.
“When I was playing Capras I was doing my apprenticeship, so I was driving twice a week to Rocky, so over 1000km a week once to training, once to play, so that was a fair bit of time in the car for two years and now it seems all worth it, but at the time there were a few times when I thought: 'Should I be doing this or should I pack it in?'.
“For me, effort equals reward and I’m glad I put the effort in.”
The likes of backrower Clayton Kilpatrick, hooker Josh Johnson and halfback Callum Anderson will be the ones charged with leading that spirit on the field for Central Highlands this at Alan McIndoe Oval.
Bell said his side “definitely want to win” and hoped to see league-mad Emerald out in force to see it.
“We want to compete every game to give it our best shot and if we do that, I’ll be happy,” he said.
“You’ve definitely got to hold on to the ball. You’re playing against quality teams who have trained pretty well and you just can’t let them down your end of the field, so if we hold on to the ball, tackle hard, run hard, we should be all right.”
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