Melbourne Storm great Cam Smith has heaped praise on long-serving coach Craig Bellamy.
The 62-year-old will oversee his 500th NRL game as coach when the Storm host South Sydney at AAMI Park on Thursday night.
Smith spent almost his entire Storm career under Bellamy and believes the three-time premiership coach is the greatest he has seen in the modern era.
“I think so,” he said on SEN Breakfast when asked if he is the best coach of all-time.
“I wasn’t lucky enough to see some of the early great coaches, I was too young to watch them go about their business.
“But certainly in the modern era, in the last 20 years he’s without doubt the best coach the game has seen.
“One of the great things about ‘Bellyache’ is to have the ability to stay at the top for so long. 20 years he’s been doing this.
“The thing that sets him apart from the rest is that they’ve been consecutive matches for the one club. He hasn’t chopped and changed every five years and gone around the competition, it’s been entirely at the Melbourne Storm.”
Bellamy’s incredible record of consistently making it to the final four is one key reason as to why Smith rates him so highly.
Since taking the helm in 2003, the Storm have played in a remarkable 18 finals series, only missing out once in 2010.
But it’s not just his coaching ability that sets him apart, says Smith.
“The Melbourne Storm played in their first Grand Final under Craig in 2006,” Smith added.
“From that year up until last year, out of those 16 years, 13 times they reached the prelim final.
“That just shows the quality of the coach, but more importantly he’s just a wonderful person.
“What you see on telly is very different to the bloke away from footy. There’s a camera fixed on him because it’s great for the broadcasters, but he’s a very relaxed, genuine, loyal person who likes living a simple life.
“He’s the type of bloke that would just give his own shirt off his back if you needed it.
“In the last few years of my career I didn’t view him as my coach, as such, he was more of a mate that I was at work with at every day, just doing our stuff.”
Despite admitting Bellamy conveyed himself with a very stern exterior in his early days, Smith finally broke through and unlocked the caring side of the mastermind.
“He came down to Melbourne and he really wanted to enforce himself on the group,” he said further.
“He thought the group needed a change to be successful. Everyone was scared of him, to be honest. They were on eggshells whenever he was around.
“I thought, ‘This bloke can’t be like this all the time’, he’s got to have a soft underbelly surely under there.
“I picked away at him a little bit and got the nicer side of him so the rest of the group could see that this bloke wis actually a genuine, caring guy that loves his players and wants them to be the very best they can be.”
Bellamy will become just the fourth man in history to coach 500 first-grade league games.
His Storm meet the Rabbitohs from 8:05pm AEDT on Thursday in his milestone match.