NRL 2022: Craig Bellamy v Kevin Walters, master v pupil as Broncos face huge test

This week’s clash between Kevin Walters’ Broncos and Craig Bellamy’s Storm is so compelling because it pits the master against his one-time pupil.

From standing in an empty stadium staring at the sun to answering awkward questions on a Monday, the Melbourne Storm played a major role in the emergence of Kev the Coach.

That’s why, points ladder apart, the clash between Kevin Walters’ Broncos and Craig Bellamy’s Storm is so compelling – it pits the master against his one-time pupil.

Walters spent three years as assistant coach to Bellamy at the Storm a decade ago, priceless, precious seasons for Walters who admitted on Thursday it was “great experience’’ and he “got a lot out of it.’’

He did indeed. Like attention to detail. Of course, as the heat of an important battle looms Walters was not going to wax lyrical about the lessons of a decade ago but there were plenty of them.

Walters was once sent to a ground 24 hours before an afternoon game by Bellamy to see where the sun was in the sky so Melbourne knew where to pitch their bombs the same time the next day.

When Walters was part of a brilliantly instinctive will of the wisp halves pairing with Allan Langer at the Broncos it often seemed as if they made up the run sheet as they went along.

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But where the Broncos often ran on instinct, Walters assistant coaching job at the Storm took him in another direction.

He would do the tapes for looming games and he knew that every Monday morning Cooper Cronk, who loved analysis and game planning, would be in Walters office asking “what have you got for me?’’

And plot they did to the point that they had a private joke that Walters was the man loading the gun and Cronk would fire the bullets.

Piece by piece they would pull apart opposition teams until they found a withering thread which they would attack.

Before the 2012 grand final against the Bulldogs, Walters noticed on tape Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds liked to rush out of the defensive line ahead of his teammates.

It left a tiny, barely discernible gap. You had to be good just to see it and even better to exploit it – which, of course, Melbourne were.

Cronk worked a deft mini-dummy which saw Reynolds cannon into a decoy runner and Billy Slater flashed through to score as the backroom boys celebrated their well-set play.

They had another victory in the same game acting on the video research which revealed Bulldogs winger Sam Perrett had a penchant for leaving his wing.

Cronk arrowed a centimetre kick across field and winger Justin O’Neil leapt over fullback Ben Barba to score.

These were big moments in the life of an emerging coach as they showcased the irrefutable proof that while we all love unshackled brilliance, precise planning can sometimes pull off the improbable.

Walters and Bellamy worked well together partly because their strengths were so contrasting. They would sit in the coach’s box on match night, Bellamy like a bubbling saucepan just about to lose its lid and Walters stone-faced nearby as if he was playing a game of chess.

During match weeks Bellamy could afford to be intense because quick-witted Kev was around to lighten the mood, whether that be by a funny story at a team meeting or just generally being himself.

Walters’ jocular reputation did come at a price though because by the time it came for him to apply for a job as a senior coach people were asking “is he too much of a joker?’’

Walters has moved past that talk now to the point that people hope the stresses of the job don’t make him too serious, proving yet again that first grade coaching in a life of extremes and can often take you to all of them.

Broncos veteran opens up on being traded

– Travis Meyn

Reborn fullback Te Maire Martin insists he has no hard feelings towards the Broncos after being reluctantly squeezed out of Brisbane by whiz kid Reece Walsh.

Martin and Walsh will swap clubs next year when the current Broncos No. 1 heads across the ditch to his native New Zealand to join the Warriors.

Martin has been a revelation at fullback for the Broncos since fighting back from a brain bleed that sent him into a premature retirement while playing for the Cowboys in 2019.

He has won eight of the 10 NRL games he has played this season and got the Broncos’ finals campaign back on track with a star performance in last Saturday’s win against Newcastle following back-to-back losses.

The Broncos missed Martin’s composure and class at the back after he suffered a rib injury in Brisbane’s round 16 loss to the Cowboys, which sidelined him for five games.

Despite his rapid rise at fullback, the Broncos have signed former Brisbane junior Walsh to wear the club’s famous No. 1 jersey next year, prompting Martin to secure a contract with the Warriors.

The 26-year-old will start at fullback in Friday night’s blockbuster against the Storm at Suncorp Stadium and wants to end his one-season cameo with the Broncos on a high.

“Obviously I wanted to stay. They gave me the opportunity to put my foot back in the door in first grade,” Martin said.

“The plan was to stay, but things happen and they did well to get Reece Walsh.

“If you put yourself in the club’s shoes, it’s a business and he’s a gun player who will fit in really well to this Broncos squad. They picked him up for a good price so they’ve done really well.

“There’s so much young talent coming through the club so the future is very bright for the Broncos. There’s no hard feelings whatsoever.

“The Broncos gave me the opportunity to play first grade again which helped me get a three-year contract with the Warriors. That’s a lot better than what I was doing last year – nothing.

“I’m really thankful to the club and ‘Kevvie’ (coach Kevin Walters) for putting me in the team.”

Walters took a punt when he called up Martin from the Hostplus Cup to fill a fullback SOS for the Broncos in round 7 following a four-game losing streak.

The decision proved to be a masterstroke with the Broncos winning their next seven straight games before losses to the Storm in Melbourne and Cowboys in Townsville, when Martin got injured.

With playmaking smarts and a cool head, Martin has been the perfect foil at fullback for organising halfback Adam Reynolds and dynamic five-eighth Ezra Mam.

He would have been a handy option for Walters and the Broncos next season, but the Warriors’ offer was too good for Brisbane to match.

“He’s not going anywhere just yet, he’s with us for the next period,” Walters said.

“We’ve been good for T and T’s been good for us. It’s been a good relationship and we want to develop it in the next few weeks.

“He’s playing an important role in the team and one he does really well. Part of us bringing him in was to help Adam with the organisation of the team, not only in attack but also defensively. He did a really good job in that regard and has some nice skills he brings to the team.

“He has surprised everyone with where he’s at given the injury he had a few years back and then he went into the wilderness for a couple of years.

“The opportunity came up for us to get him here and we jumped at it. We weren’t sure how it was going to work out, but knowing the type of player he was, if he could get somewhere near there he would be a great asset for us.”

Reynolds has enjoyed Martin’s input from the back, particularly his communication in defence and ability to pick apart the opposition.

“He is smart and an extra set of eyes for myself,” Reynolds said.

“We talk a fair bit on the field about trying to break teams down and what they’re doing.

“He is a calming influence. He is an integral part of the team.”

After retiring on medical advice in 2019 following 55 NRL games for the Panthers and Cowboys, Martin returned to New Zealand and got away from the game, spending his spare time pig hunting and fishing.

He admits the Warriors weren’t his sporting love growing up, but he can’t wait to pull on their jersey next year after resurrecting his NRL career at the Broncos.

“The All Blacks and Chiefs were my teams,” he said.

“I’ve always watched the Warriors but never followed them.

“I hope everything goes well next year. I get to move home again and things are looking up for them.

“It’s going to be good, I’m excited for it. I can get into my pig hunting and fishing again. If things are good off-field you seem to go well on the field.

“This year has exceeded my expectations, that’s for sure. I just wanted to play a whole season of Q-Cup and see how the head went but I got the call-up early to go into first grade.

“I’m enjoying the time I get in first grade, especially for a club like the Broncos.”

Broncos veteran eyes finals fling

Broncos prop Ryan James is chasing a finals swan song as he prepares to retire from the NRL and take an alternative path.

James will hang up his NRL hat at the end of the season and plans to embark on a gap year of sorts before returning to the game.

At age 31, James feels like he has more footy in him and will head to Europe for one last league experience in France at the end of 2023 after he completes a masters of business administration at Bond University next year.

James plans to play for a second division team in France in 2024 to experience life overseas with his young family.

With booming business ventures, and the long-term effects of three knee reconstructions, retiring on the Gold Coast is an attractive proposition.

Before that, James has unfinished business in the NRL heading into Friday night’s blockbuster against the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium.

In 13 years of first grade – 11 of those at the Gold Coast – James has only featured in one finals match, ironically when the Titans lost to the Broncos in 2016 at Suncorp.

After three weeks out of the team, James earned an NRL recall for last weekend’s win over Newcastle and wants to hold on to his spot in Brisbane’s 17 in the run to September.

“I don’t know yet,” James said when asked about his retirement.

“I’ve had a lot of time off the last couple of years. We’ll see how the body holds up.

“I wouldn’t mind doing a stint overseas at some stage but I’ve also got a masters degree to finish.

“I’m taking every week as it comes. If I get to play NRL it’s a bonus. Hopefully I can hold my spot now. I’ve played one final in 13 years and it was against the Broncos. To get out there and play some finals footy would be good.

“I just want to make sure I can help the boys and do my job.”

James made his NRL debut for the Titans in 2010 and played 144 games for his home town club before back-to-back knee injuries crushed his 2019-20 seasons.

He went to Canberra in 2021 to reinvigorate his career and spent the end of last season on-loan to Canterbury before securing a one-year deal with the Broncos for 2022.

James played the first six NRL rounds of the season before finding himself out of the team with a back injury.

He has been carrying a broken finger in recent weeks but didn’t let it bother him as he racked up a team-high 35 tackles against the Knights in 49 minutes.

With Pat Carrigan suspended, James was a late call-up at lock for the Newcastle game to stiffen up Brisbane’s middle defence, which was exposed in back-to-back losses.

He did exactly that and hopes Broncos coach Kevin Walters shows faith in his 167 games of NRL experience when the finals roll around.

“Kevvie gave me the tap on the shoulder the day before the game and it was great to get out there and play,” James said. “Hopefully I can hold my spot now.

“It was an easy job for me when you’re starting with Payne (Haas) and ‘Fleg’ (Tom Flegler). They’re younger and can run harder so my job is to clean up in defence.

“I want to give it the best I can and leave a good mark on the club. I want to show the young fellas what it takes to play week-in, week-out.

“I obviously haven’t played every week but hopefully my impact off the field has rubbed off on some of the boys.”

Storm chasers: Broncos ready for benchmark’ test

– Callum Dick

If the Parramatta win a month ago was the heralding of a finals force then knocking off Melbourne is how the Broncos earn their post-season stripes.

A win under Friday night lights against their perennial bogey team would not only mathematically ensure a top-eight finish, it would also stamp the Broncos’ papers as a genuine contender having knocked off the NRL’s benchmark side of the past decade.

The jury is still out for many fans and pundits on where exactly the Broncos sit in the premiership pecking order with three rounds to play – and a scrappy win over lowly Newcastle at the weekend did little to move the needle.

But Brisbane prop Corey Jensen says the looming blockbuster against the only team to boast a winning record over the Broncos in the NRL era is the perfect test of his side’s finals credentials.

“Yeah I think so. They’re a benchmark side (and) we want to be one of those benchmark sides as well, so it’s a good test for us there on Friday night,” Jensen said of the Storm.

“They’re a benchmark side and they’ve shown that for the past 10 years or so. They’re a side that’s always up there.

“We know they’ll come out firing … we’ll be ready for it.”

It was the Storm who ended Brisbane’s seven-game winning run with a 32-20 result back in Round 15 and pumped the brakes, momentarily, on the Broncos as a genuine contender.

Now Brisbane has a chance to swing the pendulum back the other way with a win on Friday night, in what would be just the 14th victory over the Storm in 52 meetings between the two clubs.

Melbourne has shrugged off a four-game losing skid to win its past three matches including a resolute 16-0 victory over an admittedly depleted Penrith last week.

Jensen pointed to that win as proof that rumours of the Storm’s demise as a juggernaut contender were greatly exaggerated.

“I know there’s been a bit of talk saying they’re off, but I don’t know who does that because Melbourne are Melbourne, they’ll always turn up,” he said.

“We know they’ll be there at the pointy end of the year and we have to be 100 per cent on (Friday night) otherwise they’ll beat us.”

Meanwhile Herbie Farnworth trained with the non-contact bib on Monday as the star centre continues to angle for a shock return from the biceps injury that at one stage was expected to rule him out for the season.

Jensen backed Farnworth to make an immediate impact once he does become available for selection.

“He’s done a lot of fitness so I know that won’t set him back,” Jensen said.

“His arm is moving all right it’s just a matter of getting some contact into him from week to week and I’m hopeful he can be back before the end of the season.”

Originally published as NRL 2022: Craig Bellamy v Kevin Walters, master v pupil as Broncos face huge test NRL 2022: Craig Bellamy v Kevin Walters, master v pupil as Broncos face huge test

Nate Jones

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