Perhaps Bellamy recalled those remarks as the Central Coast faithful completely lost their rag from the very second Storm captain Cameron Smith stepped onto the field against South Sydney on Sunday afternoon.
This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill booing. This was guttural, gurgling hate.
“And they didn’t stop for the whole game,” Channel Nine sideline commentator Brad Fittler reflected when contacted on Monday. “They’d have booed Santa Claus yesterday.”
Unlike the booing of Adam Goodes, which amped up several decibels the moment he called out racism in the middle of the MCG, it would be presumptuous to pinpoint exactly why rival fans are booing Smith with increasing volume and venom.
But I’ll have a guess, because this would be a rather short column if I didn’t.
I’ll say it’s because the game is so often played on his terms.
Fast, slow, stop, start, in attack, in defence, whether Melbourne are coasting on the scoreboard, trying to maintain a lead or haul in a deficit. He is Bobby Fischer in footy boots.
The Storm’s longstanding football manager Frank Ponissi has marvelled over the years at Smith’s impeccable timing. The captain is always the last to leave the dressing-room after a match, last on the team bus, last on the plane home.
Always the last but never late. Never. He has the same sense of time on the field.
Indeed, Smith appears to have a shot clock in his head, leaving it until the last nanosecond to take a drop out or kick at goal before being penalised.
In defence, he has mastered the art of staying involved in the tackle just long enough to slow down the ruck before he hears the shrill of the ref’s whistle.
“He was an octopus in a former life,” says Andrew Johns, who keeps saying publicly with increasing regularity that Smith is the best he’s seen. “But there are other subtleties in his game that people don’t see.
“He did it with Cameron Munster’s try (in the 60th minute) when he came out of dummy half, went right, got one marker interested just long enough to throw the defensive line out before going the other way. It had a domino effect.
“When I’m sitting in the commentary box, I just want to shut up and watch and not say anything.”
Are all these valid reasons to boo him? Surely, it’s reason to marvel.
No, what turns opposition fans blue and purple with rage are the Jedi mind tricks Smith plays with referees.
Souths supporters were howling when centre James Roberts tried to take a quick tap, only for the play to be hauled back as Smith grabbed a table and ordered a soy latte and muffin to discuss the penalty with the referees.
Less than a week ago, NRL head of football Graham Annesley used his weekly media briefing to declare there would be no more extended dialogue between captains and whistleblowers.
“It’s not a crackdown,” Annesley said on Monday. “It’s just a reminder to players about thinking about those sort of things.”
The most interesting comments Smith has ever uttered on the topic came in his recent podcast with Matty Johns.
“Do I play the game?” Smith said in relation to his dialogue with refs. “We all do. You have a chat to the ref, a bit of a joke, and say, ‘Mate, they’ve had three or four penalties, we need one’. They’re not doing that because I asked them to. You’re just reminding them. You’re planting a seed. That’s being competitive. That’s just trying to get the best for your team.”
People dislike Cameron Smith for a lot of reasons. Good luck to them. Haters are gonna hate. But the referee business is where I don’t understand the hate of Cameron Smith.
Weren’t the best players we’ve ever seen also the best con artists?
Queensland’s Wally Lewis had referees wrapped around his pinkie, so much so that Sydney crowds booed him when he was Australian captain playing at the SCG.
Balmain hooker Benny Elias once famously bit his own hand in a scrum, claimed to the referee that Souths arch rival Mario Fenech had been the culprit and had poor old Mario sent off.
Perhaps, long into retirement, Smith will be respected and adored like Wally and Benny and all those other crafty players who we hated until they all retired and they couldn’t beat our beloved teams any longer.
Not that every hater is gonna hate.
About half an hour after the win on Sunday night, Smith was on the fence with South fans wanting selfies and autographs. The same ones who had booed him.
Veteran NRL ground manager Bobby Lanigan was nagging Storm officials to get him off the field so they could sing the team song so Bellamy could get to the post-match media conference.
Smith finally left the field … with about a minute to spare.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.