Now that the State of Origin dust has well and truly settled, with the focus back on the run in to the NRL finals, it has emerged with startling clarity that Cameron Smith is the Big One of the Big Three.
Putting aside that Smith won his fourth Wally Lewis Medal and that his performances across all three Origin matches this year were the pinnacle of consistency, has there ever been such a high-profile player who plays so under the radar?
There’s a cloak of invisibility around Smith that hides just how damn good the guy is.
And here’s why: he’s so good at everything that nothing stands out.
He’s pulling all the strings, but as a spectator, you’re never really hit by the extent of his impact. Mention a name of one of the greats of the past and in a flash you think of their key skill: Reg Gasnier – acceleration, Ron Coote – cover defence, Artie Beetson – ball distribution, Mal Meninga – strength.
Smith is so good across the board, there’s no key standout skill, so we’re left with a pervasive excellence that permeates a whole match and hides the extent of his influence.
Peruse his skill set and tick these boxes – defence (quantity and quality), kicking (out of dummy half, long and short), passing (service from dummy half and general).
Then add this layer – tactical. Think of his interface with the ref, how he controls the tempo of the match, the psychological factors such as his niggle in the ruck and how he’s the master of slowing down the play-the-ball without giving away penalties.
I remember for years watching Origin during the 1980s, trying to come to grips with just how good a footballer Wally Lewis was. It took me a long time, but I eventually got it.
Lewis and Smith aren’t what you would call physical specimens, with neither looking out of place behind a delicatessen counter serving you a quarter kilo of premium silverside. They’re instinctive footballers in the real sense of the word, forged from the same template, and sharing an understanding of what the key plays are, and when they need to happen during a match. And you can’t coach that.
My contention is that right now if you had a choice of adding one player to your roster for the semi-finals and you had the choice of Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston or Cameron Smith, Smith would provide the best value.
What do you think?