Storm so boring they're enchanting
IT'S a miracle. The Melbourne Storm are in another NRL grand final, with a squad that would struggle to make the top eight under many coaches.
Here's the weird thing about the Storm. I often turn on the TV wanting to back the other team, and end up fascinated to the point of supporting Craig Bellamy's men. The Storm are boring and brilliant all in one.
Greatest is an over-used word in sport but to hell with it: Bellamy is the greatest Australasian club football coach of any code that I've seen. His only league challenger is Wayne Bennett, but Mr Happy had enormous advantages in holding top players when he started in Brisbane.
A lot of people don't like how the Storm play, and they get accused of all sorts of things. But even the naysayers would have to admire Bellamy's coaching knack.
Bellamy is insanely good. He keeps producing champion teams, or title challengers, around a tiny core of on-field tacticians - Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk. An ever-changing support cast imbued with Storm DNA does the rest.
The Storm frustrated the big Canberra Raiders into narrow submission on Saturday night. The Storm are so efficient that they take the breath away. Yet Bellamy's squad is so ordinary that former Parramatta star-turned-commentator Peter Sterling predicted they would not even make the 2016 top-eight playoffs. No one has ever played league like a Bellamy-coached team. No one attempts to copy it, and when Bellamy retires, one suspects it will be system over.
In terms of club football, nothing matches Bellamy's CV in non-league Melbourne, and he has done it entirely his way. His only recent move out of character was hiring roly-poly forward George Rose. Bellamy's forwards are tall, incredibly durable and fit. Rose was a thorn between all these high roses.
The Storm are not as thrilling to watch without fullback Billy Slater. But they remain endlessly fascinating in how they absorb pressure, make the right decisions over and over again, remain calm and turn opponents inside out through the middle of the field. This is the Melbourne mantra.
Other leading clubs like Des Hasler's Bulldogs - who liked to move the ball between big forwards - also have their way.
Steve Kearney, this is your mission as the new Warriors coach. To find a Warriors way. Recruitment wise, a new pattern has emerged: chief executive Jim Doyle repatriates star Kiwis. But beyond that, the 2016 Warriors were again confusing in playing style. The Warriors need to coach, recruit, develop and even sack to a plan, beyond grabbing whoever is available.
And so, to Sunday's grand final. The heart says Cronulla at this point. Come Sunday night, though, I'll probably be backing Bellamy's Storm. They lack the explosive quality yet their unique perfection is quite hypnotic.
Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.