Storm boot camp: ‘You won’t be doing any sleeping’
YOU know the one about Vegas? What happens there, stays there.
The same could be said about the NRL's most infamous three-day commando camp.
Of all the shortcuts and scaremongering Max King heard before coach Craig Bellamy's notorious Melbourne Storm pre-season boot camp, one piece of advice rang truest.
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"The sleeping bag, forget it," a teammate said as King busily packed about 15kgs worth of items listed on a supplied 'what to bring' checklist.
"You won't be doing any sleeping."
Former Gold Coast forward King completed similar camps before, but none like the IDQ - I Don't Quit", a foundation stone of Bellamy's legendary pre-season regiment.
The camp is mandatory, for all recruits or, those hoping to be, regardless of age and NRL experience.
If King slept, it was no more than 20 minutes - a generous estimate - over the 44-hour commando block, which started last Tuesday at 4pm after a full day of contact training.
The 15-strong contingent was split into three colour-coordinated groups before a run from AAMI Park to Birrarung Marr, then along the Yarra River and towards Southbank.
The group kept going towards St Kilda Beach, where players were put through their paces on the sand before wading into the water - long after sunset.
For good measure, campers were "unfortunately" required to carry a long and chunky rope called "Kevin" everywhere, and predominantly overhead.
Not even the 60-90 minute bus rides, to and from a secret bushland location, gave campers the chance to doze, more so out of fear of repercussions from special forces-trained instructors.
"I don't know if we were allowed to sleep (on the bus), I don't know if we weren't," King said.
"It was like keep your head down, I don't want to ask."
The non-negotiable worst part is sleep deprivation, over and above the running, lifting, carrying and mind games, designed to bolster players' resilience and mental toughness.
"The intensity of the three days was non-stop, even between activities … the downtime (15-minute meal breaks) was non-stop," King said.
"No sleeping, just running on empty after the first 12 hours.
"It was a new side of myself I've never seen before, when I was going through it, at the time I was thinking 'wow' what is happening, but I look back now and it's pretty cool."
Bellamy, too, rode shotgun almost every step of the way and watched "like a hawk".
"I remember before we went off Craig mentioned he sees more of a player over these three days than he does being with them and watching them train for a year," King said.
"It's a good way of getting players to their raw core, seeing what they're like (under stress), more so their character, they're hungry and tired, it's at their raw core."
The theory behind the trademark Bellamy camp is to create a new benchmark level for resilience for players to draw on when things do get hard during the season.
He calls it the grind, which starts about six weeks into every season when the joy and excitement of playing is replaced by the injuries, form and the Melbourne winter.
King, who played six Storm games last season after 38 with Gold Coast, and former Titan Brenko Lee were the only players on the camp with previous NRL experience.
Journeyman Lee, who has played 53 NRL games with Canberra, Canterbury and Gold Coast, recently signed with Storm feeder East Tigers and remains in contention for a spot in Melbourne's 30-man roster as Bellamy hunts for outside back (centre/wing) depth.
Easts playmaker Aaron Booth, one of several reserve-grade players invited to train with Melbourne as part of the club's relationship with its Queensland Cup feeder teams, claimed the coveted "iron bar", awarded to the man of the camp.
"No one deserved it more than him," King said.
"He was in everything. He was really selfless. He was just an animal."
But as harrowing as it was, campers were welcomed back to AAMI Park with open arms last Thursday.
A reception King, as others, will never forget, nor expected.
"I thought it would be more like you've done the camp 'sucked in' but … you walk through the door everyone (all senior players and Storm staff) is laughing and cheering," King said.
"It's like a graduation … you've made it into the Melbourne Storm."