Cam Smith's evolution through World Cups
Cameron Smith is a winner. He often wins games with the Melbourne Storm, regularly with Queensland and almost always with Australia. It's something he's just become accustomed to.
The Kangaroos are a good fit for him in that respect. Australia is the most dominant nation in world rugby league and have won 10 of the 14 World Cups to date. Smith has won more than 85 per cent of his 51 Tests. Isn't it time for another country to bring home the Paul Barrière trophy?
"I think I get asked this every tournament," he laughs.
"I understand that question, I really do. Because the Kangaroos have been so dominant for so long, you talk about a Tonga, Samoa, more so England, winning a World Cup right now, would be fantastic? I understand that. I agree it would be fantastic for rugby league in those nations, to give it a greater profile than what it does now.
"Rugby league is quite strong in the north of England but not too many in other areas though. If England were to take the World Cup home, that would gain a lot of traction back there. Kids would be enticed out there and play.
"But at the same time, the most important thing for me as the captain as the Kangaroos, is we continue to win. We love our sport, we always try to promote it the best we can. We feel, if we want to do the best we can for our sport, we need to win this World Cup."
It's a cheeky question but Smith handles it with good grace. If any team can upset the Australians, it is the English. They have a team in form who are settled. Have the Lions improved since Smith played them in 2008 tournament?
"Traditionally England always start tournaments or campaigns well," he says.
"I think they've got a pretty good record against the Kangaroos in a first game – I've been involved in a couple where we've only just scraped home. In the World Cup in 2013, we were trailing at halftime and ended up winning by eight points, so we're very wary of how dangerous this English side is and the attitude they're going to take into this first game."
Smith has watched as the World Cup concept has grown over the last decade. He feels excited at another opportunity to lead the Kangaroos again.
"They've improved each time. I know there has been plenty of work making this the best World Cup ever. 2008 was a little bit different for me. I was only 25, I was quite young and playing in my first World Cup. I didn't really capture what the World Cup was about. I just felt really excited to be part of it and representing Australia. I just worried about playing those games and preparing well.
"But 2013 I really made sure I enjoyed watching the entire tournament. Watching the other nations play, meeting other players from different teams, talking to them about their background and different cultures. It was fantastic and a celebration of our game. We played against the USA in a quarter final. We won convincingly, but the USA was in a Rugby League World Cup quarter final which was pretty special.
"That was fantastic, and the amount of effort and time put into preparing this World Cup here is fantastic. New Zealand hasn't played a [home] Test [since] 2014. Three games in PNG. Kangaroos playing a Test in Darwin for the very first time in history. The tournament itself is breaking new ground with these matches."
Smith is close with Australian coach Mal Meninga. The pair have known each other for more than 10 years through their bond with the Queensland side. Smith gives an insight into how much they are in contact outside of Kangaroos camps.
"I see Mal several times throughout the year," he says.
"He is usually around at all the State of Origin games. As the Australian coach, he goes around various matches in the competition throughout the year as well. We also speak on the phone every now and then, just to keep in touch where things are at with the Kangaroos, his thoughts on who's playing well at the moment who would be in the frame to represent Australia at the end of the year.
"[He wants] to bounce some ideas off me, just around the campaign, our camps and training ideas, stuff like that. I talk to him a fair bit – not sort of every day or every week, we stay in contact once or twice a month.
"I have a strong relationship with Mal anyway, given he was my coach at Origin level for 10 years."
It is slightly different to Tim Sheens, who wasn't in as constant contact with Smith. It doesn't matter too much; different personalities and coaching styles. But you can bet Meninga's relationship with Smith will be a key again this World Cup.