Craig Bellamy has constructed his lofty reputation by producing country club lobster from Burger King yield.
The Storm maestro has a sharp eye for the discarded, neglected and misunderstood orphans of the rugby league streets. He spots them through the cold night sky and takes them in with a base contract and a hug before building them up in to blue chip talent.
Such foster parenting is commendable for its compassion and sometimes impressive for the results it can produce. But occasionally, for all of the support and tenderness felt in these relationships, the happy strains of We Are Family don’t always end up playing through the homestead’s eight-track forever.
There are many occasions where the kids get sick of listening to Sister Sledge and decide they want to leave Summer Bay for the bright lights of Yabbie Creek. Provided they settle their debts with the corner store before they leave, nobody begrudges the sucklings for going it alone.
It happened to Pippa and the thespian-for-hire who plays her role around the Bayside Diner these days, and Bellamy is no different.
When his nurtured stock come off contract, the open market goes bananas with stratospheric offers from the elite-famished that the now-holy Storm bean counters can’t compete with, and that’s that. Progeny goes “Ciao”.
Yep, the kids are promptly weened off the homely warmth of the Bellamy teat and through misty-eyes or a faceless press release, they tell the world they are headed away from the purple nursery “for a new challenge”, also known in Latin as “for the money”.
For all of their fine conditioning and bravado at the time of shooting through, it seems the majority of players that desert the Storm stable ever manage to maintain their supremely high levels of performance in their new team colours. Think of pumped-up tyres coming out of the south like Adam Blair, Brett White, Antonio Kaufusi, Sika Manu, Anthony Quinn and Steve Turner – all above-average footballers who tasted the representative scene under Bellamy’s flying lunch crumbs before going elsewhere and not.
Whether it’s the uncomplicated role he gives to the single-task mind of the modern footballer, the basic fear factor of his scary demeanour or just the radically excellent brew in Melbourne that causes this, we the simple football fan will never know why they falter away from father.
Sure, there are some exceptions; the freak of Israel Folau and that Inglis fella spring to mind, but didn’t they also both spend time* at the champion factory in Brisbane?
(*Where ‘time’ in footy terms constitutes a period of at least 48 hours for the purpose of this article.)
In 2014, we may be seeing another Melbourne alumnus laying the tiles of notoriety required to become the latest exception to the curse.
When Gareth Widdop decided to leave Bellamy’s bosom and unlink arms from the world-class playmaking guidance of Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith for that irresistible new challenge, we all sent him off with a warm-natured but skeptical “Good luck with that, champ”.
Then when he informed us he would be going to site-manage an impotent attacking basketcase like St George-Illawarra, we inundated him with the phone numbers of many suggested psychotherapists and began sandbagging his front door.
It seemed a fait accompli that another piece of Bellamy’s polished produce would follow the usual path to post-Melbourne mediocrity, but Widdop has so far shown he could be one of those who breaks moulds and flies high.
And e’s not just holding his own in the solid-but-unspectacular link role that made him a household name at the Storm. He’s playing like the NRL halves elite, navigating the Dragons to their untouchable steamy hotline fantasies such as the end-zone, scores exceeding 40 and numbers in the wins column.
Sure, we all knew he was more than a serviceable five-eighth with claims for greater space in the spotlight if he weren’t in a shadow as large as Cronk’s, but I doubt anyone could’ve predicted the start he’s having at the Dragons.
We’ll give Widdop a few more rounds before we start speaking of him in the exclusive club of the capital halves and pivots of the footy world, but there’s no doubt he’s already risen further up the priority list for special attention on the fact sheets of opposition coaches.
He may be another rare Bellamy lobster that can breathe outside of the Bay.
And if he isn’t, then I’ll probably just blame Steve Price.