Cameron Smith to join elite company

Rugby league history is well decorated with legends who have represented the game over the years. Every one of them has come and gone yet each will forever endure.

Wally Lewis, Darren Lockyer and Brad Fittler have all been poster boys of their playing generations.

Who will be that icon of the current era? Who will be the man to symbolize the 2010s?

The debate will rage but you will be hard pressed to overlook the man who is the current leader of his club, state and country.

 

"Most guys would say they haven't seen a better dummy half but I don't think there has been a better player than Cameron Smith," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.

"I'm 56 years old so I've seen a fair few over the years and I don't think I've seen as good a player as Cameron and consistently good as well."

On Friday night Cameron Smith will run onto AAMI Park for his 300th NRL game, becoming the first Storm player to do so.

He will also be just the 10th player in the game's history to reach the milestone with the one club and it is that achievement that holds the most weight for the 32-year-old.

"The proudest part of achieving 300 games is that I've managed to do it at the one club, the club that gave me an opportunity to start my career in the NRL," Smith said.

"I think everyone knows I had an opportunity to go elsewhere at the end of last year but the decision that was right for me and right for my family was always to stay in Melbourne and I'm very glad to make that decision.

"This was obviously a big part of that, to stay at the one club and achieve a milestone like this, not many guys get to do it."

Last year the Broncos came with a bucket load of cash in an attempt to lure the decorated hooker back north.

However Smith ultimately chose to remain in Melbourne and in doing so will play in purple until the end of 2018. This puts the durable 32-year-old well within reach of eclipsing Darryn Locker's all-time games record of 355.

Some ankle issues in recent years aside, Smith has managed to remain remarkably fit over his 14 seasons as he has juggles club, state and international duties.

On top of his soon-to-be 300 first grade appearances, he has also played a Queensland-record 36 Origin games (equal with Lockyer) and 43 tests for Australia, 20 of them as captain of the green and gold.

What has been the secret to his sustained excellence? The answer has him beat.

"I'm not the biggest bloke going around or the fastest, I always get told I look like an accountant," Smith said.

"I just think the thing for me is that I have always tried to train as hard as I can on the training paddock and tried to make myself a better footballer.

"I have been very fortunate not to pick up any major injuries along the journey, touch wood it stays that way. But I think when you work extremely hard over time you bring your own luck as well."

Smith made his debut with the Storm as a halfback back in Round 5, 2002 against Canterbury at the old Olympic Park.

Melbourne recruited him from junior club Logan Brothers, the same breeding ground that produced Corey Parker.

A year after his debut a coach by the name of Craig Bellamy walked through the door. Had you stopped Bellamy after that first pre-season and asked him if he knew just how special a No.9 he had on his hands you would have had him fooled.

"Na, he didn't have that inkling at all," Bellamy said.

"My first impression of Cameron Smith was that he doesn’t push himself too hard. People were telling me he was laid back and easy going off the field and he was certainly that.

"In our first pre season I was here he always looking comfortable… like he was getting through things without a whole heap of effort."

A few words from the coach and a change in training technique and it is fair to say things have improved since those early days.

Smith's 14 seasons have included 11 finals appearances and five grand finals. He sits fourth on the NRL's all-time winners list and in the top 10 for most career points.

With three more season to come from the champion hooker after this one his name will certainly be splashed across the NRL history books when it is all said and done.

It is a resume that is decorated like few before him but will it be good enough to anoint him the icon of the 2010s? It would be a brave person to think otherwise.

Video courtesy MelbourneStorm.com.au