Cameron Smith: Rugby league genius, top bloke

Matt Cleary Columnist

By Matt Cleary, Matt Cleary is a Roar Expert

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    Even haters don’t hate Cameron Smith. All those keyboard kooks in Twitter Land who get a horn from hating something, anything, and throwing their self-loathing gibber around the e-waves, even those clowns don’t hate Cameron Smith.

    Smith is universally-regarded: Top Bloke.

    Maybe not universally. There’s people would be boo Santa delivering life-saving medicine.

    But, in the main, even to those who aren’t Queenslanders or Storm boys, people nod and look at Cam Smith and think, Cam Smith? Respect.

    Old blokes like him because he looks like they looked in the ‘50s and ‘60s: tight, sensible. Neither arm full of tattoos. No expensive haircut. He looks like a man should: Military, old school. A man.

    Girls like him, too, though they don’t fling themselves like hot muffins as they do spunkier boys.

    Smith appeals to women more than girls. His is a man’s face, a handsome enough mug; shades of Colin Farrell; dark, low eye-brows; prickly three-day growth.

    To young men he’s the wise and wry wise-cracker, the older bro who’d lend you fifty. Dudes aren’t jealous of him. Unlike some from the fractious, gilded man-youth of his e-generation,

    Smith doesn’t drink alco-pops, wear flash threads nor squire gimlet-eyed hotties.

    He’s a beer man. Schooners of Carlton. Drives a Kingswood. Got a Harley. Top Bloke.

    Referees like Smith because he doesn’t front them, get “big” in their faces. Where others (fools) rush in, waving arms, all sweat and spit and indignation, swearing, Waddyafugginmean!? – yes, you James Graham – Smith just asks a question: Talk us through that one, sir. He barely even tilts an eye-brow.

    And the refs, respected, think, Top Bloke, and find him hard to penalise.

    People like him because he doesn’t look like a ‘roid-engorged monster-man. He looks like a knockabout from your social golf club, a tradesman who’ll do you a love-job for a carton. Top Bloke. All-Aussie.

    cameron-smith-melbourne-storm-nrl-rugby-league-grand-final-2016

    Even when News Ltd’s papers published television screen shots of several ‘illegal’ tackles in a State of Origin and the minutes of the match in which they occurred, there wasn’t an uproar, especially.

    The usual keyboard warriors went at it. A couple of radio jocks opined. But the general sentiment was, well, it’s State of Origin. There is room for the grubby.

    And anyway, it’s Cam Smith. And he’s a Top Bloke. And a great bloody player.

    Great? One of the greatest ever, pal.

    The marvel of Smith is not his: super-smart work from dummy-half; slick ball-work at the ruck; darting snipes; subtle dummies; soft hands; innate combination with Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater; veritable genius of a left foot; frozen-rope goals; flawless defence; fitness; precision; guile; bravery; strength; leadership; nor winning ways of rugby league.

    At least not entirely.

    For while those are all fine traits and the mark of a Great Player And Future Immortal, Smith’s greatest trick is that he does all this stuff as if he’s driving down the shops for milk and bread, laidback like a pot-head in a hammock.

    Smith will make 50 tackles and won’t have messy hair.

    Smith’s defence is technically excellent because it’s always had to be. Since he was a little tacker he’s been the same size relative to others. That being an aptly-named ‘the accountant’ compared to the other mob’s blood-gargling Vikings.

    But Smith is sinewy strong. Like a tradesman who’s been on the tools a decade, he has muscles where they matter. He is hard rather than showy. He’s a nerd not a Julio.

    I once shared a Chinese meal with two Raiders giants, Tom Leahroyd-Lars and Dane Tilse. And both admitted to being “frightened” of running at Smith lest he make them look stupid.

    “It doesn’t mean you don’t try,” smiled Leahroyd-Lars. “You still try to run over him. But he’s very hard to shove off.”

    Like Allan Langer did, Smith can get up and inside the ribs of the giants, inveigle himself, and use the bigger man’s weight to hurl him down face first.

    Few years ago I was ringside at an Anzac Test in Canberra, the yearly exhibition of Kangaroo dominance over Kiwi.

    Smith had his usual game-face on: The Mask. And he was just there, playing, scheming, doing little things perfectly.

    A grubber, a show-and-go dummy – it was subtle, super-effective stuff. The “surgeon” thing rings true. He carved the Kiwis and they scarcely even knew it.

    He was giving up 20-30 kilos of mobile muscle to the game’s biggest Vikings – in that case ridiculous man-beasts Jared Warea-Hargreaves and Jesse Bromwich – and bringing them down, and holding them there, humping dirt.

    For another of Smith’s greatest tricks is his work on the deck, slowing play-the-ball. A little ankle-tug here, a head move there, a chin-cup. These plays don’t hurt his opponent but they do subtly, briefly immobilise them.

    cameron-smith-australia-kangaroos-rugby-league-four-nations-2016-tall

    And in a game in which ruck speed is crucial, Smith’s body-work wins games. As Learoyd-Lahrs said over Mongolian lamb: “When he’s got you on the ground he’s always gaining that extra second.”

    My mate Matt Hill, an Australian rep judo man, reckon it’s due to hours of practice at judo and Brazilian Jujitsu.

    “To manipulate players, to turn them onto their backs and control them, you have to maintain control of the head,” says Hill. “And Smith knows this.”

    Hill’s been thirty years in judo and says he can recognise league players who’ve been drilled in the dark arts.

    Hill reckons were Smith to retire tomorrow he could enter and immediately compete in blue belt Brazilian Jujitsu competition.

    A lot of players have Smith’s skills. But only the gilded few have all of them all of the time. Smith’s greatness – and you’d wager one day his Immortality – is that he pulls them off near-perfectly every game.

    Doesn’t matter if it’s Round 4 in Campbelltown or Origin Decider. Smith just… plays. Right option, right time.

    And he’s done it for a decade. He’s the fulcrum in the game’s three best teams – Storm, Queensland, Australia.

    He’s the fulcrum of perhaps the game’s greatest three-prong death squad – The Big Three.

    Cronk might be credited with more ‘Try Assists’ and Men-of-Matches.

    Slater has scored more long-range tries to the delighted squeals of girls. (My wife calls Slater ‘My Billy’.)

    But Cronk and Slater do their thing on the back Smith’s perfect, soft passes – butterflies wafting into waiting hands. Cronk and Slater don’t have to think.

    And when they do think, they think, Cam Smith. Heck of a player. Top bloke.

    Matt Cleary
    Matt Cleary

    Matt Cleary is a sports writer from Sydney. He enjoys golf, footy and Four Pines Pale Ale, and spends as much time as conscience allows at Long Reef GC. Tweet him @journomatcleary, or read him at his website.

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    The Crowd Says (131)

    • April 21st 2017 @ 7:52am
      Cam said | April 21st 2017 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      I don’t think I’ve seen a player exert as much control over a game as Smith, and this is his greatest asset. Most of the time, the game is played the way Smith wants the game to be played. I think he shades other modern greats on the back of this control. My absolute favourite…

      Although I’m sure there are plenty that will use the “G” word… I’m not convinced he’s as universally loved in all quarters… But completely agree with the sentiment…

    • April 21st 2017 @ 7:54am
      Roger Cronin said | April 21st 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      Alex McKinnon might disagree with you about the great bloke call.

      • April 21st 2017 @ 12:44pm
        Richard Maybury said | April 21st 2017 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

        What did Cam do to Alex ?

        …. or are you referring to a Channel 9 beat up in which Alex was duped and Cam was stuffed in the name of media audiences. Think both blokes learned a lot from that experience and have since put it down as history.

        • Roar Guru

          April 21st 2017 @ 5:47pm
          Mark Young said | April 21st 2017 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

          Hi Richard.
          Cameron’s issue was that Nine didn’t get his side of the story?

          Maybe because it wasn’t his story! It was Alex McKinnon’s recovery from a shocking accident that ended his football career and changed his life forever.

          What exactly was Cameron going to say? He did stand there after Alex was wheeled off to a life in a wheelchair and argue that it shouldn’t be a penalty. What did he want to clarify?

          • April 21st 2017 @ 6:29pm
            Gavin R said | April 21st 2017 @ 6:29pm | ! Report

            Dead horse getting beat.

          • April 22nd 2017 @ 8:56am
            Richard Maybury said | April 22nd 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

            Whilst one can have nothing but sympathy for Alex and his injury, you also cannot blame Cam for not seeing that this tackle / injury was as bad as it was at that stage and in the heat of the moment. Arguing with the ref over potential penalties is simply part of his job and that is what he was doing. Not a good look for sure but if we shot every player who ever made a genuine mistake then we wouldn’t have a game.

            Same with the whole SC did he know or didn’t he debacle, it is likely that we will never know the truth but I am inclined to believe in the ingenuity of Waldron to hide, obfuscate and bamboozle everyone over what was really going on. I think that Cam did not know the true state of things and genuinely believed that all payments had been cleared by Schubert as he was told by his Chairman.

            Most of us have times in our lives when, with the benefit of hindsight, we would have done differently but made up media fuelled fantasies on the back of these incidents do not deserve to derail what has been a fantastic career and a great bloke.

            • Roar Guru

              April 24th 2017 @ 3:15pm
              Mark Young said | April 24th 2017 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

              Gday Richard
              I agree, there is no doubt that Cameron didn’t think Alex was paralysed when he argued about the penalty being justified or not. And you are right, we all make mistakes and take decisions that, with hindsight, turn out to be the wrong ones.

              I was disappointed and bemused though with his reaction to the 60 Minutes interview. He was so outraged and offended with the interview that now, a year on, most people remember that interview primarily because it mistreated Cameron Smith, not that Alex McKinnon was paralysed and has kept a positive attitude towards life despite this terrible life-changing interview.

              Both men have had something bad happen to them. Alex McKinnon was paralysed and can never play again, probably never even walk again. Cameron Smith didn’t get to tell his side of the story.
              One of these things is far worse than the other, and surely a better response from Smith would be to privately fume, scream at Channel 9 and publicly defer all attention to how well Alex McKinnon is going and wish him all the best in his recovery.

              • April 24th 2017 @ 10:43pm
                Smudger said | April 24th 2017 @ 10:43pm | ! Report

                That’s exactly what he did I believe.

    • April 21st 2017 @ 7:57am
      Roberto said | April 21st 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      Not Collin Farrell – a dead ringer for Clive Owen.

      Testing the refs lenience in slowing down the ruck is where he gets a 0/10.

      • April 21st 2017 @ 12:46pm
        Richard Maybury said | April 21st 2017 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

        “Testing the refs lenience in slowing down the ruck is where he gets a 0/10”

        ……… but from a club, state or nation perspective, that is exactly what they want him to do. Professional sports is about pushing the limits and Cam does this very well.

        • April 21st 2017 @ 1:08pm
          Greg said | April 21st 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

          So does Paul Gallen, and yet you’ve spent years writing negative things about about him on every website that you can find haven’t you Richard/Ronnie M/Flake/Marldon and whatever other pseudonym’s you have

    • April 21st 2017 @ 7:58am
      andrew said | April 21st 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

      I am anticipating you will get more trolling keyboard warriors than not in the comment section to this.

      I agree with you. I love watching Cameron Smith play, because invariably he does something, a 40-20, a short side raid, or when he ignores the 2nd best half in the comp to his right and goes to the left.. and then after the play you can see what he saw before the play.

      But people will get on here and bash because they don’t like him… because he is a winner. Because he is a better hooker than they have at their club, because he is better at controlling the ruck than anyone they have, because he manages the officials better than any other captain. And someone will try and tell you he deliberately tries to injure players in tackles, like they have some inner mind reading ability, but at the end of the day they are just looking for a reason to bring down one of the best/smartest players the game has ever seen for jealousy, or whatever reason they need to feel good about themselves.

      • Roar Guru

        April 21st 2017 @ 10:12am
        The Barry said | April 21st 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

        I agree Andrew. I love watching him play. I’ve never seen anyone make so many right decisions from dummy half. His first movement is exceptional at drawing the markers and the first defender and making space for his forwards around the ruck.

        There was a game a couple of weeks ago (can’t remember who against) when the Storm were under the pump and had a scrum 20 metres out from their own line. Smith came not the scrum barking orders, packed in at lock and next thing you know he’d gone short side and put Ado-Carr away for a sideline hugging, length of the field try.

        Sure there’s been a few grubby things over the years but this is rugby league. Probably more than most.

        I think Matts missed the mark on the ‘no one hates Smith’ angle. Plenty do.

    • April 21st 2017 @ 8:05am
      Let the one king rule said | April 21st 2017 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      You’ve obviously never been on any Nrl forums. Smith is one of the more derided of the Storm’s players, character-wise. Whether deserved or not is another matter.

      • Columnist

        April 21st 2017 @ 8:08am
        Matt Cleary said | April 21st 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

        Ha. People in those forums hate everyone.

      • April 21st 2017 @ 12:49pm
        Richard Maybury said | April 21st 2017 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

        Maybe that is only because Cam isn’t playing for their team. At Origin time half of the fans suddenly love Smith and come the 4 Nations the whole country will be behind him. Every opposition fan hates Smith but once the dust settles the true appreciation of the man’s skills comes to the fore.

    • Roar Guru

      April 21st 2017 @ 8:15am
      Will Sinclair said | April 21st 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Even haters don’t hate Cameron Smith. All those keyboard kooks in Twitter Land who get a horn from hating something, anything, and throwing their self-loathing gibber around the e-waves, even those clowns don’t hate Cameron Smith.

      Well, this is awkward.

      • April 21st 2017 @ 1:45pm
        rl said | April 21st 2017 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

        why Will? Did something move??

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