I was there the day Melbourne Storm beat Cronulla 36-32. It was round one 2003 at a sundrenched Shark Park and it was Billy Slater’s debut with the slashing rookie leaving an indelible memory.
Inside him at hooker was a bloke called Cameron Smith. For someone that was there that day, the only things I really remember are the heat of the early March Sunday and Slater. Smith could have been Barry Berrigan or Geordi Peats for all I knew and that’s no disrespect to Berrigan or Peats.
This wasn’t Smith’s debut as he’d played two games the year before. Nothing special. A late inclusion against Canterbury, won one, lost one and had a shot at goal and missed. What could you really say?
Then came 2003 and everything started to click.
To put his career in perspective, Smith has played his entire career at hooker. He’s done it in the middle of the field against his fellow forwards and against much bigger and stronger men. He’s put his less than impressive physique on the line so many times who would care to count?
But it’s not just 300 NRL games. You can add 36 State of Origin appearances and 43 Test matches for the Kangaroos, NRL All Stars, trial matches and World Club Challenges.
He’s the definition of mind over matter.
“I’m enjoying my football as much as I ever have,” Smith said ahead of the historic clash against Penrith on Friday at AAMI Park.
“I feel as good as I ever have too.
“I’ve had the time of my life at this place.
“I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to come down and play in Melbourne.”
Smith has been so good for so long he has unfortunately made inaugural hooker Richie Swain an afterthought. Swain was cherished by Storm supporters in the early years and quickly became irreplaceable after helping steer Melbourne to the 1999 premiership. Then Smith came along.
“I think that anyone who gets the opportunity to play this many matches will tell you it’s never about the numbers,” Smith continued.
“I guess that’s probably the proudest part about all of my achievements throughout the game, is that I’ve done it all at the one club.”
A minority still have question marks over Smith, both as a man and as a player. Off course it’s ludicrous, he’s our Australian captain and gone about his business both on and off the field with guile. He’s won premierships, countless Origin series and World Cups.
Some will argue about what has recently happened with Alex McKinnon and 60 Minutes which is so unfair to both McKinnon and Smith for different and very obvious reasons.
There’s also the salary cap rorting of 2010 where Smith was indirectly involved.
And off course 2008 where the champion rake missed the decider against Manly due to a chicken wing in a semi-final at Suncorp Stadium.
The point is, Smith can be forgiven and will certainly have a story to sell once his retirement comes.
Considering the supposed guidelines for becoming an Immortal and the inclusion most recently of Andrew Johns, Smith looks like a saint.
Cooper Cronk nailed it when asked about his captain.
“It’s probably the way he has gone about it, his consistency, the level.”
Smith has been consistently on another level his entire career.
“You know what you’re going to get from him each week and the calibre of player that he is,” coach Craig Bellamy added.
“He’s not just the best dummy half, most guys would say that, guys that are older than me would say that they haven’t seen a better dummy half than Cameron Smith.
“But I don’t think there’d be too many players better than Cameron Smith.”
One could ramble for hours about Smith and why he’s simply better than everyone else but it’s probably easier to leave it to Albert Einstein.
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
Video source: Aussiefoooty