Queensland captain Cameron Smith in action during the opening match of the 2015 Origin series.

Smith defies science to build body of work

Inspired by a high school biology teacher who told him he could not possibly make a career out of playing rugby league, Cameron Smith now embodies a species on the verge of extinction: the footballer.

It was said a few years ago that if Smith could have played three times a week and skipped training he would have signed up in an instant and as the modern game moves more and more towards to recruiting athletes and teaching them how to play footy, Smith is a throwback to the time when kids with small frames but big brains ran the game.

 

As blokes with bigger muscles and who run faster have been beset by injuries, on Wednesday night Smith will join Darren Lockyer as the only players to have appeared in 36 Origin matches, his only absence since making his debut in Game Three, 2003 coming in the opening game of the 2010 series due to an elbow injury.

His Queensland coach in 2004-05 and current Maroons assistant Michael Hagan recalls the time in 2004 when Smith made 65 tackles in a single game; the Queensland skipper showing age has not wearied him by making 96 tackles in the first two games of the 2015 series.

He has always been an out-and-out footballer, even when he was supposed to be paying attention in a biology class at Marsden State High School in Brisbane's south.

"I might have been talking to one of my mates about the game coming up on the weekend or something and my biology teacher grabbed me and she told me I should start listening more because I wasn't going to make a career out of football," Smith said. "I still remember that day and I remember thinking, I'm going to prove you wrong. So I did."

There's every chance that same teacher now drives past Cameron Smith Oval in Logan and smiles but men such as Hagan never doubted his smarts when it came to football.

"He's always very intelligent around how we need to play, how we need to counteract what they do, how we communicate that as a group," Hagan told NRL.com.

"A good communicator, very smart tactically with what we need to get done... Not bad for the coaching staff when you've got someone like that on the field."

But what about the body?

It has been suggested Smith has the physical make-up of an accountant and not that of a rugby league legend.

He does very little yoga or stretching and has only in recent years come to see the value of a dumbbell but as he closes in on 300 NRL games, with 35 Origins and 43 Tests to go with it, this footballer's body built purely on playing the game has proved to be one of the most resilient of all time.

"A lot of people look at my body and call me the accountant and all that sort of stuff, saying I'm not a real typical body shape for a rugby league player but maybe that's got something to do with it as well," said the 32-year-old who won a fifth Origin Man of the Match award in Game One.

"I've never been the biggest or the fastest so I've had to be a bit quicker between the ears and maybe that's helped me get around the field and stay in the matches every week.

"Unfortunately I look at our game now and the majority of the make-up of a footy team are athletes.

"You hear the public say and some commentators say that there's not too much footy played any more, that it's a boring type of a game where it's a bit of a bash-up, kick the ball, bash-up, kick the ball and wait for someone to make an error.

"When I was a kid you saw a lot more football played, a lot more expansive football played and more footballers playing the game.

"Now it's your bigger, leaner [types]; they're all fast, they're all strong type of footballers."

Smith is hopeful that a proposed reduction in the number of interchanges in future seasons will see the smaller, smarter player play a prominent part in rugby league's future – otherwise the Queensland skipper may represent the last of a dying breed.