Joel Selwood to help Melbourne through stormy period

There's an impending sense of uncharted waters on the Melbourne Storm horizon as one of rugby league's greatest coaches prepares for what looks to be his final tour.

At season's end, Storm talisman Craig Bellamy will likely conclude his coaching tenure at the club he's steered to three premierships and a record 19 finals appearances since he took over at the helm in 2003.

Bellamy's list of NRL accomplishment reads more like a novel than a series of bullet points. He's forced record books to be re-written and shifted the goalposts for what we now expect from a coach and his team. His 69.5% winning record -- the best of anyone in competition history to have coached at least two full seasons -- is enough to make a genuine case that no person in the sport, be it player or coach, has ever had a greater impact on success.

While Bellamy will remain in the organisation post-2023, his final game as coach will bring the curtain down on the Storm's golden era. Cameron Smith. Billy Slater. Cooper Cronk. And, of course, Bellamy. The 'Fab 4'. Not only did this iconic quartet give rugby league a pulse in AFL-mad Melbourne, they also combined to build an enviable culture of dedication, professionalism and success.

Melbourne faces a daunting transition from Bellamy to his successor; whoever that may be. But don't sleep on the somewhat underrated off-season acquisition of AFL great Joel Selwood, which could go a long way to softening the blow in the club's changing of the guard.

The four-time premiership star for Geelong -- who announced his retirement shortly after leading the Cats to last year's flag -- hadn't yet emptied his locker at Kardinia Park when the Storm's brains trust of Bellamy and CEO Frank Ponissi approached him about a lucrative and perhaps unexpected leadership coaching role.

"Joel is an impressive person and has shown he has outstanding leadership qualities as captain of the Cats over a long period of time," said Ponissi after securing Selwood's services. "His leadership and values off the field have been very well documented over the years."

Selwood hasn't been brought in to design plays or share any tactical nous. Instead, his one-day-per-week leadership role will involve him mentoring the current and future leaders of the club. He will also provide direct support to the next captain -- expected to be Christian Welch -- who led the team in Round 1 last year before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury.

It's a timely addition for the Storm in an off-season which has seen the loss of 791 games of experience. Wayne Bennett's Dolphins, the NRL's expansion franchise, snatched the ever-reliable Bromwich brothers, Jesse and Kenny, as well as second-rower Felise Kaufusi. Meanwhile, Brandon Smith completed a move to the Sydney Roosters.

"Right now it's a different group to what they've had in the past so it's about getting these boys together and working out what they can do," said Selwood. "My key role is looking after the leaders and bringing them through as quickly as possible. I've had to get to know the boys on a personal level first. I've been really impressed with the mannerisms they hold."

Selwood is an icon in AFL circles. In addition to the four premierships, Selwood has earned six All-Australian blazers and three club best and fairest awards. He also boasts the record for most finals appearances and most games as a club captain. But what makes him so revered is his legendary leadership.

"He truly is irreplaceable as a person," Cats teammate Patrick Dangerfield told radio station KIIS after Selwood announced his retirement. "He has been such an instrumental figure and an incredible leader. As an organisation, we have been so fortunate to have Joel a part of it and captain it."

Leadership can be difficult to define. What exactly is it? And what makes someone more adept than the next?

For Selwood, he's admitted his strength was in the "performance side of leadership" and ensuring his on-field actions command respect. But his humility, care and attention to detail all play a role in why he's universally regarded as one of the greatest captains in his sport's history.

"The standards he has set have been exactly why the Cats have been a destination club and remained in contention for so long," AFL icon Wayne Carey said of Selwood in 2021. "Selwood has never asked a teammate to do something he wasn't willing to do. And central to his leadership has been his durability and consistency."

Cameron Munster might be the player to benefit most from having Selwood on the Storm's books. The uber-talented 28-year-old was dumped from the leadership group last year following his involvement in the club's white powder saga, but is back on the road to redemption.

"I've always admired him from afar when he was playing with the Cats," Munster said of Selwood. "He's just come in and simplified a few things for us as leaders and as a group. We can sometimes over-complicate things in rugby league, we can make it harder than it really is, but he's settled things down and put a focus on the little things that make up the DNA of a club."

It's not the first time the Storm has leaned on ex-AFL talent. Former Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell filled a similar role with the club between 2015 and 2019.

But with so much uncertainty about the club's near future, this will be vastly different. And the steadying voice of Selwood will be invaluable.