Fifty not out: Why Bellamy has rival coaches covered with finals milestone

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Craig Bellamy is about to coach his 50th finals game.

The Storm mentor, who also made three play-off appearances as a player – including Canberra’s 1990 grand final win against Penrith – will reach the magical mark in Friday’s preliminary final against Penrith at Accor Stadium. Only Wayne Bennett, with 74, has coached more often in the post-season.

The prospects of adding further to that tally this season improved after halfback Jahrome Hughes overcame a calf complaint in time to be declared fit.

Storm general manager of football Frank Ponissi, who has been Bellamy’s right-hand man for most of the coach’s career, said the latest play-off appearances are all the more remarkable given the loss of star forwards Brandon Smith, Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi during the off-season.

“I’ve seen some other stats, I think it’s our 10th prelim in 13 seasons post the salary cap [scandal] and in Craig’s time he’s been in 14 prelims in his 21 years,” Ponissi said. “That is pretty impressive. This is another year, on the back of some others, where we have lost some players.

“Last year, to lose the players we did to the Dolphins and also Brandon Smith to the Roosters, I don’t remember a period where we lost so many players in one position. We lost four key forwards, four from our starting team. To now sit in a prelim with a shot to go through to the grand final, I think that speaks volumes.

Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has a stunning finals record.Credit: Getty Images

“It’s incredible. I feel that it reinforces his decision to continue coaching [next season]. It’s just my opinion, and I’ve told him this personally, that he has got so much more to give.

“Certainly his effectiveness has been proven on the back of what happened last year. It’s not waning one bit, it’s strengthening.”

While Bennett has coached more play-off games, no mentor from the modern era can eclipse Bellamy’s win ratio. Bellamy has a 63.3 per cent post-season success rate, pipping Ricky Stuart (62.5 per cent), Phil Gould (61.1 per cent), Ivan Cleary (60.9 per cent), Jack Gibson (60.7 per cent), Tim Sheens (59.4 per cent) and Trent Robinson (58.3 per cent). Bennett is a couple of rungs down on the list at 51.4 per cent.

Bellamy decided to continue his incredible coaching career into next season, but for a long period he contemplated making this year his last. A conversation with star five-eighth Cameron Munster proved the turning point.

Finals win percentages for coaches during the modern era

  • Craig Bellamy – 49 games, 31 wins, 18 losses, 63.3%
  • Ricky Stuart – 24 games, 15 wins, 9 losses, 62.5%
  • Phil Gould – 18 games, 11 wins, 7 losses, 61.1%
  • Ivan Cleary – 23 games, 14 wins, 9 losses, 60.9%
  • Jack Gibson – 28 games, 17 wins, 10 losses, 60.7%
  • Tim Sheens – 32 games, 19 wins, 13 losses, 59.4%
  • Trent Robinson – 24 games, 14 wins, 10 losses, 58.3%
  • Warren Ryan – 27 games, 15 wins, 12 losses 55.6%
  • Des Hasler – 30 games, 16 wins, 14 losses, 53.3%
  • Wayne Bennett – 74 games, 38 wins 36 losses, 51.4%
  • Bob Fulton – 27 games, 13 wins, 14 losses 48.2%

Source: Champion Data

“In the off-season last year when we went away on our annual trip, he conceded to me that was it,” Ponissi said. “This was going to be his last year, he was quite adamant. I was pleasantly surprised when he said he was going to give it another year, I didn’t think that was going to happen.

“Munster led the revolution with a couple of players to make him realise he has a lot to offer. There would have been some personal and family stuff, but if you had to pick one moment from my discussions with him, the Cameron Munster chat was certainly pivotal. For that, we have Munster to thank.”

Bellamy is hopeful of orchestrating one of the great finals upsets against overwhelming favourites Penrith.

“Our players have done a great job this year to get to where they have got to, but that doesn’t mean we are not real hungry to go that extra step,” Bellamy said in his pre-game press conference.

“We have had a bit of an up-and-down year too with some of our consistency. But losing the players we lost in the off season – we lost four forwards who took about 800-900 games of experience out of our team – that was hard to replace.

“The way they have really strung it together over the last month or so … to hang in how we did last week and come back at the end shows they have a lot of belief in each other. If we put that effort in tomorrow night, we’ll see what happens from there.”

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