The age of Cameron Smith’s children may have a greater influence on his playing future than his own as the 37-year-old this week ruled out a comeback for Queensland that would have made him the oldest player in State of Origin history.
While Smith’s future has been the subject of debate and speculation for months, whether he continues next season will have nothing to do with form, the toll on his body of playing a record 19 seasons or the outcome of Sunday’s premiership decider against Penrith at ANZ Stadium.
If Smith hadn’t retired from representative football in 2018 he would be poised to eclipse Petero Civoniceva’s record as the oldest Origin player (36 years and 73 days in 2012) and would also be the oldest player to pull on a Kangaroos jersey since 38-year-old Sandy Pearce in 1921.
Kevin Walters had kept the door open for Smith to return in the upcoming Origin series and new Queensland coach Wayne Bennett would have welcomed him back too, while he would still be among the first players picked by Mal Meninga for Australia.
However, Smith ruled himself out, saying: "You definitely won’t be seeing the old boy going back to play Origin again. We're flush for dummy-halves at the moment."
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George Green is the oldest grand final winner after helping North Sydney to back-to-back premierships in 1922 at the age of 38 but Smith will become the second-oldest if the Storm defeat the Panthers.
Despite being 37 years and 130 days old on grand final day, age has not wearied Smith, who has made 430 NRL appearances and missed just 41 games – mainly due to State of Origin duties.
Instead, it is the age of his children – Jada (12), Jasper (10) and Matilda (8) – that is more likely to influence the decision of the Storm hooker and captain as he searches for reasons not to continue playing into his 38th year.
"A lot of people have mentioned about whether we get a good result on Sunday and [how] that will determine things but I can confirm that it won’t make a difference whether we win or lose," Smith said on The Matty Johns Podcast.
"We want to win, there is no doubt about that, but that won’t determine whether I play or not next year.
"It’s the sacrifices that you make in your own personal life and the commitment that it takes to play in the National Rugby League, and for me it is about weighing that up.
"It is no secret that I am getting on a little bit now. I am 37 and that means my family is as well, and my children are starting to get a bit older. My eldest daughter is 12 going on 13 next year, and they are starting to do a lot of things in their own life.
"It is more to do with whether I am committed to making those sacrifices anymore; it’s not about how good I feel I am playing or whether I can make a difference to this footy side."
Match: Panthers v Storm
Grand Final -
Venue: Stadium Australia, Sydney
On-field numbers stack up
Smith missed four matches this season due to a shoulder injury and being rested from the final-round clash with St George Illawarra but he still finished fourth in Dally M voting behind Canberra’s Jack Wighton, Parramatta’s Clint Gutherson and Penrith’s Nathan Cleary.
The former Australian captain was 10th for try assists and eighth for line-break assists – the only forward to feature in the top 10 of either category – and Smith’s goal-kicking strike rate of 84.38% was his best since taking on the role for the Storm in 2004.
Panthers v Storm - Grand final
He has scored more points (2772), made more tackles (16,883) and kicked more goals (1290) than any other player in the NRL era, while he is seventh overall and the No.1 hooker for line-break assists (158).
By comparison, Hazem El Masri scored 2342 points, Nathan Hindmarsh completed 12,203 tackles and Jonathan Thurston kicked 923 goals.
In an indication of how much Smith has changed the role of a dummy-half, his 63,209 kick metres are almost double the next highest by a hooker – Robbie Farah (38,268m) – and the ninth by any player.
Former NSW captain Paul Gallen, who was Smith’s deputy in the Australian team for most of his six years at the helm of the Kangaroos, retired last year at the age of 38 but he believes there is no reason for the Dally M Hooker of the Year to cease playing.
"I knew that season I didn't want to play anymore. I didn't want to go to training, do the contract at training, I didn't want to get hammered in the game anymore and that's something I really loved right throughout my career," Gallen told WWOS radio.
"Cameron Smith is still doing everything so great. I still think he's probably the best player in the game; he's definitely the best No.9 in the game.
"He could certainly go on if he wanted to but we don't know what's going on inside his head. We don't know how his body feels. I genuinely don't think he knows what he wants to do."
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Smith revealed on Thursday at his last media conference before what could be his final game that he had been consulting former teammates Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk about the reasons behind their decisions to retire.
Like tennis great Roger Federer (39), NBA superstar LeBron James (35) and legendary NFL quarterback Tom Brady (43), Smith has been subjected to calls to retire.
Federer recently declared he would not retire before the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, while James last week said he had "a lot of years left" and Brady has piloted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to four wins from five matches this season.
Slater retired after the 2018 grand final but he also believes Smith could play beyond this season.
Smith to make call on future 'sometime after grand final'
“You’re a long time retired and once your body goes it goes, so there is no having a year off and then changing your mind,” Slater said.
“I have had those conversations with Cam and it is a really tough decision for him because he is getting to the age where he knows it is coming to an end, but is this year the last one? I’m not too sure.”
According to the ghost writer of Smith’s biography, Andrew Webster, not even the book’s publishers know whether the grand final will be his last game and Slater believes he could wait until there is clarity around next season before making a call.
"I think he is just enjoying what he is doing and he wants to give him and his team the best chance of winning this premiership and then make a decision off the back of that,” Slater told Big Sports Breakfast on Friday.
"Let’s not forget the Melbourne Storm are trying to win the comp out of a suitcase. They’ve lived away from home for five months and played two home games all season. It is an incredible achievement for this group of people.
"Cameron Smith is a very family orientated person and he has been away from his family for a lot of this season.
"I can’t believe he is still going around performing at that sort of level. It just shows you the durability and competitiveness he still has in his game. He will go down as one of our greats."
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Hooker records in NRL era