By PETER BEBI
MELBOURNE Storm coach Craig Bellamy’s decision to select former PNG Hunters flyer Justin Olam in his starting side last month has captured the imaginations of PNG rugby league fans.
Bellamy’s decision reflects his confidence and trust in Olam’s ability is a big vote of confidence in Papua New Guinean rugby league talent.
The Storm coach has proven repeatedly throughout his tenure that he has the ability to identify talent from the Pacific region and groom them to becomefirst grade performers and set a benchmark in the world’s highest profile competition, theNational Rugby League.
The Storm have done it before with a Bialla, West New Britain native named Marcus Bai in the late 1990s.
Bai would go on to have a fruitful career with the Storm and become a club great not to mention a cult figure in the heady early days of the club when they were consistently one of the best teams in the competition.
No doubt Olam is in line to follow Bai’s footsteps and it is that pathway for potential players in the future that fans should be excited about.
Although Olam has not played since his debut in the centres against the St George Illawarra Dragons in round 9, the Chimbu man has been named on the extended bench and has been on standby should he be needed – such is the life of a squad member.
Being considered for a spot on the Storm bench is still saying something. It is a recognition of his form at Q-Cup level for feeder club the Sunshhine Coast Falcons.
Olam must make everyopportunity count particularly during the Origin series when coach Bellamy will look to rest players.
At some point Olam’s name will be thrown in to fill one of the spots in the three-quarters.
The PNG Rugby league board must open up to other opportunities in NRL, talking about building player pathways, the Storm comes into the picture.
This is the very club the PNGRFL should be engaging with to establish a strong relationship with an aim to set a platform to expose PNG players to the Storm club.
The SP PNG Hunters also has a relationship with the Brisbane Broncos which is also another club closer to home that should be looked at.
The Storm have one of the world’s top coaches in Bellamy and if anyone can improve and mold Olam, it is him.
Bellamy has built an assembly line of top products at the Storm since joining the club as head coach in 2003 – which was Bai’s last year in Melbourne – and has shown a knack for taking someone else’s cast-offs and turning them into valuable parts of a first grade team and even representative players.
Bellamy’s technical nous and ability to bring players from different backgrounds together under one cause is a mark of a master tactician and a mentor.
In 2016 Storm scouts picked up Olam from the Hunters and offered him the chance at an NRL career but more importantly to develop his football with one of the best clubs.
If PNG fans are looking for a team to support in 2018 and beyond then it has to be the Melbourne Storm and coach Bellamy and I am sure that all fans in PNG will watch Storm games on TV because of Olam.
PNG Rugby League should start engaging with the Storm while Bellamy is still the coach because I can sense that Bellamy has a special interest in PNG players and we need to make use of the opportunity.
Bellamy incidentally was the Kumuls trainer for the 2000 World Cup campaign under head coach Bob Bennett. Bai was a part of that team.
The PNGRFL could maximise the relationship with the Storm by inviting them to play a trial match against the Hunters, much the same way the Broncos came up here earlier this year. It would be a hit.
This would be a good way to start building the relationship going forward. I am sure this game would also expose potential Hunters to the Storm coach to trail during the 2019 preseason.
Hunters coach Michael Marum should work closely with Bellamy with an aim to build a pathway for Hunters to progress and Marum would also learn a lot from the exchange of methods and styles.
Marum has done this on several occasions with Wayne Bennett and the Broncos. While on Olam, I don’t know him personally but I have seen him training and playing for the Hunters and this young man has the speed, power, strength and good defence.
He also has a disciplined approach on and off the field.
He has graduated from university with a degree in applied physics and being able to do that and juggle being an elite footballer takes a lot of effort, commitment and talent.
I am positive that if Bellamy gives Olam a second chance in first grade, the 24-year-old will not let him down.
I see Olam as tough competitor and who will compete with the best in the Storm backline to earn a spot in Melbourne’s top 17.
PNG fans aresurely crossing their fingers hoping that Olam will make the Storm team again in 2018.
I am convinced that Olam will make it to Storm’s first 17 soon because he is physically and mentally up to the challenge and once he does that he will write his name into PNG rugby league lore as the man who followed Bai.
Olam’s achievements were basically through the Hunters programme and coach Marum should be credited for his involvement and management and this is a success story and this is only be the beginning and I am confident that the flood gates should be opened wide for NRL scouts.
For every game that Hunters play in Queensland, Hunters players must make use of the opportunity week in week out to perform better to impress coaches of other Q-Cup clubs and hopefully NRL clubs and that must be the player’s objective.
With Olam’s inclusion in the Storm, that should motivate the Hunters players and the Digicel Cup players.
I am positive that with the next two State of Origin games to go several Storm players will be involved and this will provide Olam a second shot at first grade.
By PETER BEBI