Smith reflects on Belmore 'ambush'
If you had to list the top five most unflappable players in the NRL, Storm skipper Cameron Smith would be the raging favourite to be your number one.
Cool, calm and composed, the game's premier No.9 is rarely rattled no matter the situation, but even the greats are human.
It was a cold Monday night back in 2015 and the Storm had been drawn to take on the Bulldogs at their spiritual home, Belmore Sports Ground.
The grudge match was the first time an NRL game had been played at the suburban venue since the Bulldogs downed the Storm way back in 1998.
You could sense something was brewing hours before the game with the locals keen to celebrate rugby league coming back to Belmore.
It was meant to be a colossal contest between two powerhouse clubs. It wasn't.
"We just got ambushed," Smith told NRL.com at the 2017 season launch in Sydney.
"We turned up there and not one player in our team had ever played at Belmore. We had no idea what to expect and there was a packed house full of diehard Bulldogs supporters.
"The Bulldogs played a great game of footy that night and I think they scored three tries in the first 10 minutes and it was pretty much game over. At least we got a little bit of experience of what to expect."
The post-match scenes of players celebrating with the blue and white brigade on the hill with a thunderous rendition of their team song still give Canterbury fans goosebumps. It was an atmosphere quite unlike anything you'd ever seen.
For a player like Smith, heading into enemy territory was nothing new. He'd done it for the Storm, Maroons and Kangaroos his whole career, but nothing, according to the 33-year-old, compared to that night in June.
"We've played at some pretty intimidating grounds over the years," he said.
"We seem to draw the Wests Tigers fairly often on a Sunday afternoon at Leichhardt Oval, we get Manly at Brookvale nearly every year, and they're probably two of the hardest away games to play.
"But that game at Belmore was definitely something else. But as I said, we know what to expect now – well most of the squad do – and I'm sure we'll be better prepared to know how to handle the occasion."
The Storm will return to Belmore this Friday night in what shapes as a mouth-watering Round 1 showdown between two top-eight teams from 2016.
Incredibly, the Bulldogs are winless at Belmore since that emotion-charged night, and Smith hopes his troops can make it four losses on the trot for Des Hasler's men.
"It's going to be a huge crowd on Friday night," Smith said.
"Those guys are going to be pretty fired up in front of their own fans, especially for a Round 1 game. We just need to get off to a good start. We understand our situation – we've got two games away from home to start the year – and it's pretty important that we start well."