Craig wasn’t happy with this from Lachlan Lewis!
On Saturday night the ever-durable Cameron Smith achieved something no-one has ever done before: he ran out onto the field for his 400th first-grade rugby league match.
It’s an amazing achievement when you think about it. It is absolutely outstanding.
During the whole week leading up to the milestone game there was a huge flow of support from former teammates, other sporting legends and members of the media. The messages was that Cameron Smith is the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of boots on a rugby league field.
But the question must be asked: was this status given purely because of his 400-game milestone or was is it thoroughly deserved?
Let’s consider the achievement first.
Smith played his 400th game, which is an absolutely wild achievement. Moreover, he’s skippered about 80 per cent of those games, which means he’s almost always been the leader of his team.
He plays hooker, a seemingly tireless position which involves a lot of work, whether in defence or attack. He carries out all kicking duties for the club, whether it’s goal kicking, kicks for touch or dropouts. He packs at the back of every scrum for his club to allow himself to be the first use of possession from the scrum. Wild, isn’t it?
But this just says his usage is very high! Not all usages are important they aren’t of high quality, right?
If you look at each of the 400 games, it would be very hard to find one in which Cam wasn’t at least among the top three performers for his club. If you don’t believe me, ask his teammates.
This says he has a very high usage rate of very high quality.
Accolades? He has them all. He debuted in 2002, and just four years later he took home the Dally M award for best player in the competition. Eleven years after that he won his second Dally M medal.
Over those 11 years he still kept the quality of his play up to a standard sufficient to be considered the game’s best player – and that was with two of the league’s best five players in his team too.
He has multiple golden boot awards for the world’s best player and he’s a seven-time Melbourne Storm player of the year and a multiple-time captain, hooker and representative player of the year. He has it all.
Let’s add on one crazier statistic. He’s played a heck of a lot of representative footy too. He’s played over 100 games, whether for Australia, Queensland and the All Star fixture. Funnily enough, he’s captained over 75 per cent of those games too.
He has done it all, yet it’s this milestone has given him the all-clear for the GOAT.
Do people believe it’s warranted? A lot do. A lot don’t.
He is by far the most influential player on a game, but does that mean he’s the greatest of all time?
Not by any stretch. But that influence certainly makes him great. He has the ability to slow down a game and play it at his own pace. He can turn a game on its head when his side is in a rot, whether it be an early kick in the set for a potential 40-20, a sniping dart out of dummy or picking the correct playmaker to pass to.
It’s been said many times throughout his career that he could have Cooper Cronk on his right screaming for the ball and his five-eighth on the left – whether Greg Inglis, Gareth Widdop or Cam Munster – and he’ll choose on his own which way he will go. He might dart out himself and push in a grubber kick for the in goal, and at no time has either playmaker complained about his decision not to listen to them, because he always gets it right.
What stands out to me as a viewer is his leadership. If you take a very strong look into weekly Storm games, Cam is always the most excited for a try scored and often the first to congratulate the scorer. He also rushes to pick up a teammate after they’ve made a mistake to lift their spirits.
When the half-time buzzer sounds and teams head for the sheds, watch Smith as he goes to each of his players and taps them for a ‘good half’ salute. It’s a marvel to watch his leadership.
All this is to say that he is remarkable. The only player who could be considered the greatest purely for rugby league abilities is Joey Johns. Johns has been very vocal on record stating Smith is the greatest he’s ever seen. It’s a very humble gesture, but if you were to argue over Smith or Johns, you would likely get a split room.
They’re neck and neck on their style of play. Where I think Smith wins the GOAT status, however, is off the field, and he wins it for his longevity too.
Playing for so long in the middle making 40 tackles a game, taking all kicking duties for his side and controlling the game as good as Johns – it’s the small one per centers that mean he’s achieved GOAT status on merit.
In my time watching rugby league he has been the greatest of all time, and I don’t think I will ever change my opinion. If that time were to come , however, I hope that player changes the game as much as Cameron Smith has.