Cameron Smith’s opponent on Friday night was just four-years-old when the legendary hooker made his NRL debut

October 14, 2020 0 By The81stMinute

BY CURTIS WOODWARD

@woodward_curtis

It is 1998 and a skinny little kid is running rings around the competition for Logan Brothers in south-eastern Queensland. His name was Cameron Smith and already touted as a future star of the game.

The ARL and Super League have just come back together, Brisbane are on their way to another premiership and John Howard is the Prime Minister of Australia.

At the same time, on the outskirts of Sydney, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, Tom Starling is born.

When Starling was four, Smith was running out for his NRL debut for the Melbourne Storm at Olympic Park.

A year later, Smith donned his first Queensland State of Origin jersey.

Starling was just five-years-old.

This isn’t a classic story of legend versus rising star.

After all, Starling hasn’t even cracked 20 first grade games and the undisputed number-one dummy half in Canberra is the great Josh Hodgson.

But when Hodgson went down with a season-ending three months ago… everything changed.

Everyone except the Raiders put a big black pen right through Canberra’s chances.

Now here we are – Starling versus Smith.

18 NRL games versus 428.

Think about this… when Starling was pulling his footy boots on for his first ever game as a six-year-old up at Kincumber… Smith was already playing State of Origin.

When Starling was eight, Smith was representing the Kangaroos and playing in NRL grand finals.

But on Friday night in Brisbane – Tom Starling and the Raiders could be the ones to end Smith’s career.

“He is probably the greatest player over the past ten years and has been able to maintain that for however long with Queensland and Australia,” Starling said.

“It is going to be pretty cool to be up against him in the hooking role – it is going to be fun.

“His style of game plays a bit different to mine.

“I am a bit more of a runner. He is more of a game manager. I have definitely looked at his type of game for sure. I have watched heaps of dummy halves and tried to pick up what he is doing.”

Starling played his first and only NRL match for Newcastle in 2018.

Just three in 2019 for Canberra.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Starling wasn’t going to play anything more than one single NSW Cup match.

“I only played one game of reserve grade – went on the COVID break – and came back to no reserve grade.

Storm flyer Papenhuyzen insists team has no idea whether this weekend will be Cameron Smith’s final ever NRL game

“I was looking at having only the one game of footy for the whole year unless there were injuries.

“My head fell off a bit there. I need to be playing footy. I live and breathe it. Hodgo got injured there… it was shattering for the team and for him.

“I got a good opportunity to step up into first grade. I had to take it with both hands.”

Something says this kid from Windsor is going to play a fair bit more in the coming years.

Remember the name.

The rookie that wasn’t even meant to be here, charging towards history and a one-on-one showdown with one, Cameron Smith.

@woodward_curtis

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