'God, here it goes again.'
You can't blame Joe Stimson for thinking the worst when Craig Bellamy's number flashed up on his phone a few weeks back.
"When you get a phone call from Craig, that usually means you're in trouble or going to be dropped."
The last call Stimson fielded from Bellamy was two weeks out from last year's finals, asking the 22-year-old to come into his office.
Making what Storm insiders describe as one of his toughest axings in recent seasons, Bellamy told Stimson he would be making way for Kiwi international Tohu Harris.
For the next five weeks Stimson suited up for every training session and warm-up of the Storm's premiership run, before watching each game, including a thumping grand final win over North Queensland, from the sidelines.
Stimson won't be forgetting that conversation in the coach's office anytime soon.
Fortunately for the team no-one got injured. But unfortunately for me, no-one got injured.Joe Stimson
But neither will Bellamy. The Melbourne mentor made a point of calling out Stimson's conduct during a pre-season group meeting, summing it up simply as "this is how we handle disappointment".
"He did make a bit of an example of me, which was nice of him to say," Stimson told NRL.com.
"It showed me that he did recognise how I took that disappointment.
"That's the mentality at the Storm anyway, you put the team before yourself, and I thought I did that quite well last year. There was no point kicking stones.
Inside the NRL - Finals Week 3
"It was a bitter pill to swallow, I thought I was playing some pretty good footy, I thought I'd wiggle my way onto the bench but that wasn't to be.
"I was 18th man all through the finals series, fortunately for the team no-one got injured. But unfortunately for me, no-one got injured.
"There was no-one in doubt or anything, no-one even gave me a carrot. But that's footy and I was happy to be a part of that whole grand final experience."
Easier said than done. But Stimson did it all the same, converting his 15-game rookie campaign into another 22 appearances in 2018, most of them starting on Harris's old left-edge channel.
Bellamy has also put the unassuming Temora product out of his misery, confirming Stimson will keep his place even with Melbourne's pack back at full strength as Nelson Asofa-Solomona returns against Cronulla in Friday's preliminary final.
Only after putting the wind up him again though.
"I still get nervous," Stimson laughs.
"Craig called me the other day and I thought 'god, here it goes again'. But he was just calling for a chat. You get sweaty palms, if Craig lights up your phone, nine times out of 10 it's for a bad reason. You have answer those calls.
"He brought me into my office, and he just said that I was missing out but not because of my footy.
"He was happy with how I was playing, it was just the way the cookie crumbles and I had no hard feelings or anything. I completely understood because Tohu's a Test player, that's footy and Craig let me down easy."
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