They broke bread on Thursday, but Craig Bellamy and Ricky Stuart will put their friendship on hold on Saturday when their teams rip in for a prized spot in next week’s NRL grand final.
Not content with their traditional post-game beverage, Bellamy on Friday revealed the 1990 premiership Canberra teammates caught up the day after the Raiders arrived in Melbourne.
“We met up yesterday for a bit of lunch,” Storm coach Bellamy said.
“We’re not sitting next to each other during the game. I’m not going to aide him because we’re playing against his team this week. At the end of the day it’s an important game of footy.
“But it’s only one part of life. We’ll get on with life either side of it.”
Appearing in their first preliminary final in almost 20 years, Stuart has been at the heart of the Raiders’ rebuild since returning to the fold in 2014.
They fell one game short of equalling a club-record 11-game winning streak late this year, and are also one of three teams to have beaten the Storm since June.
Bellamy, who holds a 10-5 record over his former Raiders teammate, said there were signs of Stuart leading the resurgence at the nation’s capital as early as last year.
“You could see it building last year in what he was trying to do. He’s done a great job at hand-picking the players that he wanted to play the style of game that he wanted to play,” he said.
“To get a couple of guys like (Junior) Paulo and the young kid from Newcastle, (Joseph) Tapine, to get them after the season started, that was a real big bonus for them.
“He’s done a great job there with the recruitment of the team. But he’s obviously done a great job coaching them as well and getting them ready each week.”
Bellamy revealed last year’s preliminary final loss to eventual premiers North Queensland forced the coaching staff to alter this year’s preparations after claiming a week-one finals win.
Instead of the three-four days off players were given during the week’s break last year, they had just two days rest after their qualifying final win and another shortened breather this week.
“We changed the way we structured the two weeks, than what we did last year… Our training sessions have been shorter, there’s plenty of intensity about them,” he said.
“Hopefully they’ve done the right thing.”
The Storm will be sweating on the health of forward Dale Finucane, who has been battling an ankle injury he picked up in their preliminary final win over the Cowboys a fortnight ago.
Matt White and Felise Kaufusi are on standby, however Bellamy said was confident in Finucane pulling up well from Friday’s captain’s run.
“His preparation has been very limited as far as what he’s done with the team,” Bellamy said.
“But he’s a pretty tough, determined bloke, Dale. I’d like to think he is going to play but we’ll check him out this afternoon and we’ll go from there.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* In the past five seasons, Canberra have won four of eight matches against Melbourne, the best record of any team besides Canterbury (seven of 10).
* This year, no team has scored more points than the Raiders while no team has conceded less points the Storm.
* Melbourne have won just one of three grand final qualifiers at AAMI park.