If Craig Bellamy steps away as head coach of the Storm at the end of this season, Melbourne would like club legend Billy Slater to replace him.
Bellamy has already foreshadowed that he will vacate the hot seat at season’s end, telling Fox Sports he is “pretty sure this is going to be my last year as a head coach” on the eve of Round 1.
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“I think it’s time for the club to have a new coach,” Bellamy said at the time.
Storm president Matt Tripp has made it clear his first priority is to convince Bellamy to stay on as head coach for a 22nd season in 2024, but admitted he has had to consider contingency plans if he fails, according to News Corp.
At the top of his hit list is former Storm great and current Queensland State of Origin head coach, Slater, who is set to have a decision on his hands.
If Melbourne do make a play to lure one of their greatest ever players back to Gosch’s Paddock, Slater will have to weigh up lucrative offers from Queensland Rugby League and Melbourne to coach either his home state or former club.
Given Slater’s contract with the Maroons is set to expire at the end of this year’s series, and the obvious interest from Melbourne, QRL chair Bruce Hatcher conceded “the dogs are barking on this one”.
“We would like to extend him but Billy has told us he wants to get to the end of this Origin series to review things then,” Hatcher said.
“Craig Bellamy has indicated this could be his last season, so we may have a battle on our hands to keep Billy.”
Tripp said his club “would be mad to not look at someone like Slater”.
“Billy is a legend of this club, he is an inspiration and he is one of six or seven candidates we are looking at to replace Craig,” Tripp said.
“To be honest, my first priority is to keep Craig as head coach and talking to him about why I would love him to go on for another season.
“Craig has given every indication that this year will be his last year, and this time I believe him compared to years gone by. He suggests this year is his last and I have to take him on face value.
“I honestly believe Craig is coaching as well as he ever has and I still think he is the best coach in the game. I’m clinging on at the moment and living in hope that he decides to coach on for another year.
“Billy would be a great coach of the Storm. He is smart and highly-regarded, but I have to be respectful to Craig and the other candidates.”
Speaking on his own podcast recently, Slater said he doesn’t feel like an NRL coach “at the moment”.
“The Melbourne Storm mean a lot to me,” he said.
“I’ve spent half my life at that club, and I’m still there now as a part-time coach, still contributing to the club.”