by Mitchell Crawley
RUGBY league great Gary Belcher is making a Raiders comeback 24 years after first finishing his famed playing career, and the move has surprised his new team.
The former Kangaroos fullback, now in his fifties and juggling commentating commitments between Fox Sports and the Sportsday radio program, rose to prominence alongside the star-studded Canberra Raiders outfits of the late 80s and early 90s.
Teams that included the likes of Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley, Craig Bellamy and Mal Meninga.
Belcher, a mainstay at the back during what was widely considered the most successful period in the Green Machine's history, became a household name to many league followers. But his nephew, Tweed Raiders U11 coach Craig Belcher admits when he first arrived at training earlier this year to begin work as an assistant coach, none of the youngsters knew who he was.
"He's very humble," he said. "But we just wanted him to get involved with the kids and teach them some good skills.
"I don't think they realised who he was at first or what he's done. But one day one of the kids came to training and said, 'I saw you playing for the Canberra Raiders last night'.
"And Gary looked at him and said, 'I don't think so mate'. But the kid had been watching old YouTube footage. After that I think a few of the kids might have looked him up."
The former Maroon custodian spent part of his post-playing career on the Brisbane Broncos coaching staff under Wayne Bennett. But he said working with the U11s offered different sorts of rewards.
"I think it's the same at any level," Belcher said. "It isn't always about winning games.
"For me, the biggest thing is seeing the kids get better and have fun, seeing them make improvements."