Durkin: Storm coach wins in a canter
ABOUT this time of the season - sometimes earlier - those pundits sitting around the periphery of the NRL have their say on who should be coach of the year.
It is always a thought-provoking exercise from the so-called experts who have an opinion, and also have a ready-made media avenue through which to air their thoughts.
And on the eve of the finals, which in reality is another competition, the time seems right to judge who has been the best.
For what it's worth, I have always been of the belief that the coach of the year is the one who wins the big trophy - that large, bronze statuette which immortalises gladiators Norm Provan and Arthur Summons. After all, in November each year when teams assemble for pre-season training, success on grand final day is their lone goal.
But along the way another competition is played. The one that finishes this weekend and dictates which teams finish where, who stays in the mix and who gets a Mad Monday pass.
If that is the genuine race, then the coach whose team wins the minor premiership should be regarded as the best. Finishing head of the class after 25 arduous rounds is certainly tougher than winning a four-week play-off.
So, on that basis, Craig Bellamy wins yet again. In a canter.
The Cowboys will cause the greatest boilover of the season in Melbourne on Friday night if they beat the Storm, and that won't happen.
That means Bellamy's team will win the minor premiership by four points, having lost just four of 24 matches, scoring the second-most points and conceding the least.
Since joining the Storm in 2003, Bellamy has clinched the minor premiership seven times - contentiously including the three deducted (2006-08) for salary cap breaches. And despite losing a host of superstars - notably Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Tohu Harris and Jordan McLean - Melbourne has now won three of the past four JJ Giltinan Shields.
In fact, the minor premiership race since 2013 has become a two-horse contest between the Storm and the Roosters.
Trent Robinson, a two-time premiership coach, has taken the Roosters to four first-past-the-post titles in his seven buoyant years at Bondi.
Both are outstanding coaches and at $3.25 (Storm) and $2.50 (Roosters) it would surprise if one of them doesn't lift the premiership trophy again on the night of October 6. And that would make them the genuine coach of the year.
Other worthy COTY candidates deserve honourable mentions - Ricky Stuart, Des Hasler and Brad Arthur among them.
Stuart has added a defensive steel to the Raiders, taking them from tenth to third in one season. They are a genuine premiership chance.
Hasler's transformation of the Sea Eagles has been equally impressive.
The Manly boys finished second last in 2018 and although they now appear long shots for the title with Tom Trbojevic sidelined, Hasler has brought new life to Brookvale.
And the Eels' journey from wooden spooners to finalists in one season is a huge tick for Arthur, whose roster in the past 12 months barely changed.
But seriously, no one touches Bellamy.