Candid NRL image as good as it gets
The rivalry between Ricky Stuart and Craig Bellamy is fierce but they never let it affect their friendship.
Two of the longest-serving coaches in the NRL kept tradition alive last night even when they knew no amount of beers was going to numb the pain for one of them.
After Bellamy's Storm had thumped Stuart's Raiders 30-10 in Friday night's preliminary final to book a spot in next weekend's grand final and end Canberra's season, the Melbourne coach picked up a couple of cold ones, left his own team's dressing room and strolled into the Green Machine's sheds.
He plonked himself down next to Stuart, handed him a beer and they got chatting.
It's a ritual the pair have followed for years - the winning coach bringing the drinks into the loser's inner sanctum as they chew the fat about rugby league and life.
The tradition stems from a mutual respect born when Stuart signed to play alongside Bellamy at the Raiders in the late 1980s. Bellamy, a senior player at the time, took the cheeky young halfback under his wing and Stuart was forever grateful.
Their friendship remained as they moved from playing into coaching and even though Stuart was shattered on Friday night - walking out of his press conference after only one question - he wasn't going to storm out when Bellamy came knocking.
TV cameras caught the pair nursing their beers and having a quiet chinwag as the Raiders came to grips with narrowly missing out on a premiership for the second year in a row.
Parramatta legend Peter Sterling was a huge fan of the sportsmanship on show.
"Two great mates and former teammates, now coaching opponents. You'd love to know what the conversation is. It wouldn't be an easy one I wouldn't imagine," Sterling said on Nine.
"That's our game. That's our game right there. You go out for 80 minutes and you rage.
"There's smiles there, but they are unbelievably competitive individuals these two. He would be hurting now, Ricky Stuart, and Craig Bellamy understands that. He knows. So he wouldn't have to say much. But that's what our game is all about."
Former Jillaroos star Ruan Sims was just as impressed.
"It's wonderful to see that you cannot be adversarial and still be competitive against each other. It's a really good leadership quality," Sims said. "It's wonderful to see these two great coaches sitting there.
"And whilst it would be a very difficult conversation, I'd love to be a fly on the wall behind them because I think it would be very enlightening."
Originally published as Candid NRL image as good as it gets