Cameron Smith has revealed why the looming decision on his playing future is "really hard" as he prepares for Sunday’s grand final against Penrith.
Smith, named in the Dally M team of the year at hooker, continues to set the bar as one of the leading players in the game.
The 37-year-old was asked whether he had felt within himself any sign "Father Time" had caught up with him leading into his eighth grand final and 430th NRL game and the answer was revealing.
"Not really, which is why it makes the decision really hard," Smith said.
"I’ve spoken to a few of my ex-teammates that have now retired and they told me it was just one day they woke up and, in their mind, they didn't want to do it anymore.
Smith to make call on future 'sometime after grand final'
"That was the reason they knew it was time to finish up. I haven’t had that feeling yet. There's lots of things to consider, outside of just how I feel and whether I think I can play on. After this game has finished, I'll do some thinking and make a decision."
Smith took the obligatory question on when he would make a decision on his future, and answered "some time after the grand final", before adding he was unsure whether it would be in its immediate aftermath or in the days and weeks ahead.
One thing that has not died down is Smith’s motivation to succeed, as coach Craig Bellamy outlined.
Match: Panthers v Storm
Grand Final -
Venue: Stadium Australia, Sydney
"I wouldn’t expect anything else," he said.
"I’ve been around him for 18 years. I don’t know exactly what makes him tick, but at the end of the day I know the competitor that is in him and the great care he has for his teammates and the club in general.
"He is willing to take a little bit of the spotlight. He has always been a great team man. That hasn’t changed.
"You can have your opinion on anything about his career or him, but no one has done what he has done in our game.
"For me, greatness is the quality of your performance and how long has he done it for. No one has done it like he has and it might be a little while before someone does."
The Panthers have three premiership winners in their squad with Zane Tetevano (Roosters in 2018), James Tamou (Cowboys in 2015) and Api Koroisau (Souths in 2014).
The Storm boast 10 grand final winners while six of their named 17-man side are yet to play in a decider.
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Prop Christian Welch has played in two grand finals and lost both.
"The guys that have been there a couple of times before are going to be vital to our side and if they play well then that is going to help the younger boys in their first grand final," Smith said.
Smith has won all his grand finals with Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk at fullback and halfback but he said his 2020 teammates in those positions – Ryan Papenhuyzen and Jahrome Hughes – were ready to help lead the team to victory.
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"Their form in the last six weeks shows why I have confidence on those players, and not just myself but the rest of the team and coaches as well," he said.
"Those two are wearing famous Melbourne Storm jerseys, the one and the seven, and when Billy and Cooper finished up at our club it wasn’t about trying to find someone who emulated the way they played.
"We are never going to replace those players. We are never going to see another Billy Slater or Cooper Cronk. We had to encourage these young guys to come in and be their very best, and with the coaches guidance that is what we are seeing.
Panthers v Storm - Grand final
"As an older player and captain when I look at the young guys coming into the competition I am looking for improvement year-on-year and those two guys this year have come on leaps and bounds.
"Craig told those two guys at the very start of pre-season, ‘Ryan you are the fullback and Jahrome you are the halfback’ and that gave them an opportunity to try and settle into the team and build combinations with the players around them.
"Now we see the result of a lot of their hard work."
Bellamy was unsure whether prop Tui Kamikamica would play after recovering from an ankle injury and training with the main group this week.
"We are thinking there is a real good chance he will play but he’s got to get through a couple of other sessions and the one today will have more intensity than the first two so we will see how he goes and pulls up."
The Storm team will fly to Sydney on Saturday afternoon with 60 staff and family members arriving on Sunday. They will all fly back late on Sunday night to the Sunshine Coast.
The club will hold its presentation evening on Tuesday night and then on Wednesday the players will join Origin camp or be able to break the club's biosecurity bubble to take a well-earned break.
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