Melbourne Storm leaves lasting impact on Lewis
HE MAY be a staunch Queenslander and former Broncos champion, but Wally Lewis is an ardent fan of the Melbourne Storm.
Who would've thought?
If rugby league's 'King Wally' could hand out knighthoods he'd be bestowing the honour on coach Craig Bellamy first and foremost.
Lewis recalls listening to an unnamed Storm player's glowing praise for the humble yet driven and influential Bellamy.
"They said, 'He hasn't just turned me into a better player, he's turned me into a better person'," Lewis said.
"I thought 'Wow, that is the ultimate rap.' It was fantastic. I asked Craig about it. He didn't want to go on about it, but I said, 'Look, you've got to feel pretty good'.
"He simply said 'that's my job'. And to be honest, that's exactly the response I would've expected from Craig Bellamy.
"You really have got to admire his ability to turn a good average footballer into one of the best in the competition. He gets the best out of them week after week, season after season."
Bellamy will coach in his eighth NRL grand final tomorrow. He's won four of them, albeit only two officially (in 2012 and 2017) due to salary cap infringement penalties.
The Storm, however, had won Lewis over well before the new 'supercoach' arrived in Aussie rules' heartland in 2002.
"I've admired them for a long, long time ... since the second season," he said of the year the Storm stunned the competition, and in particular the Dragons in the 1999 premiership-decider.
"I was part of a Brisbane Broncos side that had a team chock-a-block full of Origin players yet weren't able to win a premiership."
Melbourne, on the other hand, was a ragtag bunch of rejects thrown together under the leadership of coach Chris Anderson.
"They were basically put outside in the rubbish bin and told to go and look for any other club," Lewis recalled. "What they achieved was incredible. They certainly gained a lot of respect."
No flash in the pan, the Storm have carried on from those early days to become the most successful football club of any code this century at the top level in Australia.
Success has of course been built around Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, but in recent times also the wayward types such as Cameron Munster, and rising talents like Josh Addo-Carr - players Bellamy is getting the absolute best out of.
Five-eighth Munster is a particular favourite of Lewis.
"He'll probably be the first to admit it's the maturing (he has done off the field) that has helped him become a much better footballer," Lewis said.
"Perhaps the guy who Bellamy can build a whole new team around."
Dalby product halfback Brodie Croft, meanwhile, is beginning to live up to his early promise and deliver on the big stage after spending most of the season back at Easts in the Intrust Super Cup.
Lewis described it as "repair and recovery" - Bellamy ensuring Croft fulfilled his potential.
"Last week's performance (by Croft in the preliminary final against the Sharks) was inspirational. It will be an enormous boost for his confidence," Lewis said.
However, no team since the Broncos of 1992-93 have claimed back-to-back titles and Lewis acknowledges it won't be easy for the Storm tomorrow.
The Roosters present a formidable challenge - even if Cooper Cronk misses - with Dylan Napa and Latrell Mitchell returning from injury and suspension. Mitchell looms as a matchwinner.
"The form he has displayed this year has been nothing short of sensational ... on the wing, at fullback, in the centres," Lewis said
"His offload skills, everything about his power game, he is one hell of a footballer. I'll stick with Melbourne, but boy, they are going to have to be at their best."
Channel 9's coverage of the NRL grand final will begin at 6.30pm.