Inspirational Smith defies coach's odds
He wasn't supposed to be spotted in a Melbourne jumper for at least a month but such is the drive of inspirational Storm skipper Cameron Smith, he just couldn't help but make a faster than expected comeback from a syndesmosis injury – much to the surprise of his coach Craig Bellamy.
While the Storm played well below their standards in terms of discipline and ball control in Monday night's win over the Dragons, Smith was inspirational – playing the entire match and producing a game-high 46 tackles to lead an outstanding Melbourne defensive performance.
Labelling Smith "unique", Bellamy was shocked his captain played out the entire game after flirting with the idea of starting him from the interchange.
"I thought he was outstanding to get through the 80 minutes. Earlier in the week I wasn't going to start him and then he told me he thought he'd get the full game out but even then I still wasn't going to start him," Bellamy said.
"Then we were prepared to give him a rest and every time we sent a message out there to ask if he was okay – it was a hot night and the big guys really struggled – he said he was okay.
"Then all of a sudden it was the end of the game and we didn't give him a rest at all. The way he has recovered and the way he's trained is a real credit to him."
While it had become a widely accepted fact over the pre-season that Smith was going to be absent for some part of the opening rounds, the veteran hooker was having none of it.
"It's Round 1 just throw me out there. Don't ease me into it," was how Smith described his conversation with Bellamy over the question of starting from the bench.
"I think I showed him that I was ready to go. I'm very thankful he put me out there," he said after the win.
"My ankle pulled up fine too. A part of my recovery was making sure I could participate in a solid session and backup the next day.
"I didn't want to be thrown into the game and not be able to back up against Manly next week. I wouldn't have played against the Dragons if I didn't think I was ready."
So how does one go from missing the first month of the season to being one of your team's best in the opening clash of the year?
"The first obvious thing which went right was time and allowing it to heal, and I guess about three weeks ago it started looking like I was going to put my hand up to play," Smith said.
"It was first planned I was going to miss the first two, maybe three or four weeks, but during my rehabilitation I felt the need to run. You know in yourself that you're ready and I said I need to go for a run and see how it's going and it went pretty good.
"I only really joined the team about a week-and-a-half ago, I haven't done much with the boys and it was never a given I was going to play because the medical staff weren't prepared to throw me in there, but I kept passing some pretty tough training drills and tests."
Considering the scrappiness of the 12-4 win over the Dragons, Bellamy will return to Melbourne breathing more than one sigh of relief knowing his captain came through with flying colours, and that without him the Storm might not have got away with the victory.