CRAIG Bellamy and Greg Inglis of the Storm hug at the end of the game during the round 26 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Newcastle Knights at AAMI Park on September 5, 2010 in Melbourne.
CRAIG Bellamy and Greg Inglis of the Storm hug at the end of the game during the round 26 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Newcastle Knights at AAMI Park on September 5, 2010 in Melbourne. Quinn Rooney

Melbourne mentor opens up on Inglis' exit

IT WAS was a gut-wrenching day Craig Bellamy will never forget.

He'd just returned to the team's hotel after a training session preparing for Melbourne's NRL round 18, July 10 clash with the Bulldogs in Adelaide, when superstar Greg Inglis walked into his room and dropped the biggest bombshell of Bellamy's coaching career.

"I'm leaving to play for the Broncos," was Bellamy's recollection of a highly emotional moment which ended with both men breaking down.

Bellamy was already trying to come to grips with the toughest year of his coaching life after the NRL stripped the Storm of premierships in 2007 and 2009 (Inglis starred in both).

That penalty came after the club ran up salary cap breaches totalling $3.1 million over five years to keep stars Cameron Smith, Bill Slater, Cooper Cronk and Inglis - dubbed as the Fab Four - together at the club.

"Greg was pretty emotional and then I got quite emotional," Bellamy told APN in an exclusive interview before Sunday's grand final, when Inglis hopes to help South Sydney break a premiership drought which started 26 years before he was born in Kempsey, NSW, in 1987.

"I remember thinking this can't be happening.

"I couldn't sleep that night I was so distressed and emotional."

Bellamy was a father figure to Inglis during his early years at the club, so understandably the news he was leaving hit him like a lightning bolt.

"I suppose I was a bit of a father figure for Greg because he was down here and his dad was a fair way away. At that age he needed some guidance," Bellamy said.

"He faced some real difficult issues in his early teens losing an uncle in a car accident and I think he also lost his stepsister as well.

"He battled some really tough times for someone so young, but even then he was amazingly resilient.

"It was really hard when he left. It was hard when they all left ... Brett White, Aiden Tolman, Jeff Lima and Greg and the others.

Bellamy has never asked Inglis about his decision to leave.

"I've never ever spoken to him about it and never said this on the record to anyone before, but I reckon he thought he was doing us all a favour," Bellamy said.

"One of the big four had to go and I certainly wasn't going to make that decision after what those guys had done for our club.

"I don't know this for sure, but I think Greg thought 'I am the youngest, I was the last one here' so I should be the one to go.

"He never ever said that to me and I don't really want to know.

"But that was a really big decision for a young player to make because I know how much he loved Melbourne and this club.

"It just goes to show you the calibre of the person that he was able to do that for his mates."


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