After being named Kangaroos captain in 2002, Andrew Johns was asked what he would change about himself as the leader of his national team, to which he responded something along the lines of: “I’ll be shaving a little more frequently.”
Kangaroos captaincy hopeful Cam Smith looked to have followed Joey’s advice when Australia rolled England at Elland Road last Saturday night.
The man with the most distinctive stubble in the game apparently decided to make his final audition for the captaincy of the Kangaroos also a dress rehearsal by picking up his Gillette. Although, there’s a possibility he was just doing the right thing by the tournament sponsor.
However, a clean chin does not make a clean skin.
There are a number of questions hovering over Smith that means the issue of his ascendancy to the captaincy of the Kangaroos isn’t as clean-cut as it, and he, appears.
The first is his consistent view that he is entitled to more money.
When the NRL partnership recently agreed to increase the clubs’ funding by $500,000 next season, Smith was quick to weigh in on where some of that money should go.
“The clubs are asking for more money but they haven’t mentioned anything about paying players more money. All they have asked at the moment is for more money for them.”
He went on to draw comparisons between the NRL and the NBA, where presently the game is being held to ransom by the players insisting they deserve a larger slice of the pie.
“It is pretty extreme, the whole lockout stuff. I would like to think our game would never go to those lengths.”
He would like to think. Of course it wouldn’t be the first time Smith has made a threat of this type by not making it, saying in May of 2010, “I’m not sure whether striking is the right thing to do because at the end of the day striking hurts the game and the fans.
“But if that’s going to help the players and help keep players in the game, then maybe that’s something we need to look at.
“I’m not saying we will do it, but it’s an option that is there for us.”
Obviously Smith is not the only player in the game complaining about a lack of appropriate financial compensation. But if every player from the Under 20’s up were to have a strike – think occupy Wall St-style here – then Smith would certainly not be one of the 99% who are underpaid.
Meanwhile a bloke like Petero Civoniceva also makes calls for more money. But he is quick to qualify that rugby league has “been everything, and I want to give back”.
So where does Petero stand on player payments?
“We need to even out payments. That’s why it’s harmful when an elite player talks about increasing rep payments.
“That’s not considering young fellas who have to balance work, study and football while on a lower wage.”
Of course Cameron Smith was never one to make too much noise about player payments prior to April 2010, when his team the Melbourne Storm were taken to task by the NRL for cheating the salary cap over four years – an action that was in part exposed by Smith’s deal with Fox Sports.
And though Smith was cleared of any wrong-doing by the official investigation, he and his agent refused to cooperate with said investigation.
This isn’t to suggest Smith is necessarily guilty of anything but when Storm coach Craig Bellamy gave up his work and home computers and participated in full with the investigation to clear his own name, Smith refusing to so much as talk to the investigators cast him in a light so dim it gave his newly-smooth face back its five o’clock shadow.
But perhaps the main reason a question rests over Smith’s head is that he is a suspect player on the field.
No one can question his work ethic, talent, skills or attitude.
But one can question the spirit in which he plays the game.
Though a player such as Richie McCaw is often accused of playing his sport on the edge of its laws, the laws McCaw flirts with are to do with playing the ball. Smith, on the other hand, lives on the razor’s edge of laws concerned with player safety.
His club is the most notorious in the game for wrestling techniques in their tackling. Indeed, Smith himself missed the 2008 Grand Final after receiving a two week suspension for a grapple tackle on Brisbane’s Sam Thaiday.
This would have only been one week – and meant just missing that year’s preliminary final – if Smith did not have carry-over points for another grapple tackle in round 1 of that season.
Whilst he has since maintained a clean record at the judiciary, he was also an integral part in one of the ugliest (or best, depending on your point of view) scenes in recent Origin memory.
In the final minutes of Game 3 2009 the game had become little more than a brawl on a field. So it was interesting to see what the respective leaders of their states thought was appropriate reaction to the game’s descent.
After being awarded a penalty in the game’s final minute QLD vice-captain Smith put up the bomb which Anthony Watmough later described as an “up-and-under for an all-in”.
NSW captain Kurt Gidley took the bomb and fearlessly ran into a wall of Maroon defenders baying for blood.
The comparison between sport and war, framed by the question “who would you rather be standing next to in the trenches” is as flawed as it is disrespectful. So the simple question to be asked is who showed greater leadership qualities – Kurt or Cam?
And that is the question to be asked of Smith – will he show sufficient leadership qualities to be the captain of the greatest rugby league team and nation in the world?
Will he show Petero’s selflessness and look out for the underdog? Follow Craig Bellamy’s integrity and set the correct example for his fellow players? And will he have Kurt’s courage and be the man to take the hit instead of dish it out?
Or will he just continue to shave a little more frequently?