Billy Slater has found himself at the centre of a fierce tug-of-war between the Melbourne Storm and Queensland Rugby League (QRL), amid reports the NRL club is lining him up to replace Craig Bellamy as coach. Storm mentor Bellamy is expected to announce his retirement from full-time coaching at the end of the 2023 season, having indicated as much earlier this year.
Bellamy signed a five-year contract extension with the Storm last year, however there are no stipulations that he has to remain head coach for the duration. Before the new season kicked off Bellamy told NRL 360: “I think it’s time for the club to have a new coach.”
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“I’m pretty sure this is going to be my last year as a head coach. I’ll still be around the club a little bit in a part-time role at the end of this year.”
The Storm have reportedly identified club great and current Maroons coach Slater as Bellamy's preferred successor. While Storm chairman Matt Tripp says the preference is for Bellamy to continue coaching in 2024, he says Melbourne "would be mad not to look at someone like Slater" if 2023 is Bellamy's last year at the helm.
“Billy is a legend of this club, he is an inspiration and he is one of six or seven candidates we are looking at to replace Craig,” Tripp said. “To be honest, my first priority is to keep Craig as head coach and talking to him about why I would love him to go on for another season.
“Craig has given every indication that this year will be his last year and this time I believe him compared to years gone by. I honestly believe Craig is coaching as well as he ever has and I still think he is the best coach in the game.
"Billy would be a great coach of the Storm. He is smart and highly-regarded, but I have to be respectful to Craig and the other candidates.”
QRL responds to Storm links with Billy Slater
The comments from the Storm will certainly put the QRL on high alert and reports from the Courier Mail indicate they will offer him a lucrative new deal to continue coaching the Maroons beyond 2023. Slater signed a two-year deal with the QRL that runs out after this year and the legendary former fullback has indicated he will wait until after the State of Origin series to decide his future.
It's no surprise that Slater is a man in demand after masterminding a 2-1 Origin series victory last year in his coaching debut. QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher says he's aware of the Storm's interest in their coach, and admits they "might have a battle" on their hands to keep hold of the in-demand coach.
“The dogs are barking on this one (that Slater is in line to succeed Bellamy),” Hatcher said. “We would like to extend him but Billy has told us he wants to get to the end of this Origin series to review things then. Craig Bellamy has indicated this could be his last season, so we may have a battle on our hands to keep Billy.”
Most good judges insist Slater would make a terrific NRL coach but the man himself has already hosed down such talk earlier in the year. "I really enjoy my life at the moment. I've got a good balance to it," he said on the 'Billy Slater podcast' earlier this month.
"The Melbourne Storm mean a lot to me. I've spent half my life at that club, and I'm still there now as a part-time coach, still contributing to the club. At the moment it's a no (I won't take over from Bellamy). I don't see myself as an NRL coach."
If Bellamy does call time on his coaching career in 2023, then he will go out as one of the finest mentors the NRL has ever seen. Bellamy has already guided the Storm to three premierships (2012, 2017 and 2020), plus another two (2007 and 2009) that were eventually stripped as a result of the club's salary cap scandal.
Bellamy's 367 career wins in 530 games (69% winning ratio) puts him behind only Dolphins master coach Wayne Bennett (557 wins) in terms of the most victories for a coach in the NRL. Bellamy has also been named Dally M Coach of the Year six times (2006, 2007, 2011, 2017, 2019 and 2021).
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