The key player of the NRL season?
Cameron Smith will need to be at his peak for the Storm against Manly. Images: (Mark Kolbe/AAP)
Ben Barba, Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston, Brett Stewart, Cooper Cronk, and Matt Bowen were all mentioned when I asked rugby league friends of mine who had the biggest impact on the NRL this season.
And all very worthy of recognition in 2012, with so many superb games, and performances, especially Barba who thoroughly deserved his Dally M and all the other awards that fell his way.
But no-one mentioned my selection in Cameron Smith, captain of the Melbourne Storm, the all-conquering Queensland Origin, and the Kangaroos.
He’s the complete footballer, and my first pick in any side.
On his rare off days, he still inspires all around him. On his man-of-the-match days, or close to it, he’s making busts midfield, or sending supports through gaps he’d spotted seconds before, he rarely misses a tackle, and that trusty left boot of his finds the line, and the uprights, time after time.
If there’s one player who will control proceedings on Friday night at AAMI Stadium against Manly, it’s Cameron Smith.
Manly will have to keep him quiet, or forego any chance of defending their premiership.
The clash between champion fullbacks Slater and Stewart will be worth the charge of admission alone. But both are well away from the ball by ball action. Smith is at the coalface dictating play, usually for 80 minutes.
Slater and Stewart on Friday night, Inglis and Barba Saturday night. League fans, irrespective of the clubs they support, will enjoy watching these four titans strut their stuff, wearing the number 1 jersey.
I can’t recall any season when the last four teams have boasted such sublime talent at fullback.
But there is the proviso. Slater and Inglis are both due to regain their true form, both have been a bit subdued of late compared to their normal lofty standards.
On a level playing field I see the Storm winning through thanks to Smith, Slater, Cronk, Jason Ryles, and Anthony Quinn overcoming a couple of Stewarts, Dale Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran, and Anthony Watmough.
And the Dogs to account for the Bunnies, with Des Hasler’s coaching genius the ultimate key, and Michael Ennis, Frank Pritchard, and Sam Kasiano to do the Dogs damage up front, and Barba with Josh Morris putting the icing on the cake, despite the presence of Inglis, Michael Crocker, Adam Reynolds, John Sutton, Sam Burgess, and Isaac Luke. It might make a difference if David Taylor can awaken from his Bunny hibernation.
Fingers crossed neither game is decided by refereeing, or video-refereeing, stuff-ups for a welcome change.
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