There’s an old saying in sport: Father Time in undefeated. But when it comes to Cameron Smith, a man who has shattered records left, right and centre in an unprecedented career, you wonder whether even that old truism will be made to look foolish.
While young hands like Nathan Cleary can lose a fortnight in a single TikTok, Smith has the uncanny ability to make weeks and even months appear out of thin air for himself.
Smith constructed a will-he-won’t-he scenario at the end of the 2018 season, hinting in the lead up to the Storm’s grand final loss to the Roosters that the game may be his swansong.
“If we go and play well next week I don’t know – you would consider it,” Smith said.
“I don’t have a contract next year. I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.”
Consider it he did, taking more than three months before deciding early in the New Year he would keep playing footy. In the process, he manufactured more time for himself, turning a tabled 12-month extension into a two-year deal.
Now, in the final months of the contract he signed in January 2019, Smith is yet again making headlines as he tosses up whether or not to go around in 2021.
And, of course, along with headlines, he’s making time.
A Daily Telegraph story published in mid-July claimed Smith had put a three-week deadline on himself regarding his future.
Of course, we’re now in September and the 37-year-old has yet to make a call, turning three weeks into six (although, to be fair, the article that made the three-week declaration had no direct quotes from Smith regarding this interval).
What was really astonishing was the way Smith showed himself to perhaps be Father Time himself thanks to a quote from, ironically enough, Father Smith.
Cam’s Dad, Wayne Smith, last week told News Corp, “He told me three weeks ago he would make a call and it’s now been four weeks, so the decision is imminent.”
Catch that? Cam said something three weeks ago and somehow in the interim, three became four – the man really is the Doc Brown of the NRL.
Nonetheless, while Smith’s mastery and manufacturing of time can leave us gobsmacked, it can also rub people the wrong way.
The most classic example was when he famously retired from rep footy just weeks prior to the start of the 2018 State of Origin series, Queensland then scrambling to replace their captain and most influential player after they had already hit the snooze button at least twice, confident Smith afforded them a lie in.
For the record – just in case any Queenslanders have forgotten – the Maroons haven’t won a series since.
And the fear now is that Smith will do something similar at the Storm, stretching his own time out like a sheet of dough, only to decide he’s going to walk away, leaving Melbourne to discover their countdown timer has long since sounded and their future plans have been burnt.
But if that were to be the case, who would be to blame: Cameron for taking his time, or the powerbrokers who have been quoted on numerous occasions saying Smith can take as long as he needs?
Less than a week ago, Storm football manager Frank Ponissi told SEN, “It’s a big decision if he is to give it away, quite correctly he’s not going to rush the decision either way…
“When he makes that decision we’ll support it, whatever it is.”
That followed chairman Matt Tripp, who said in July: “No one will be rushing Cameron.”
Craig Bellamy had got in on the act even earlier, saying in June he’s “not going to tell Cameron Smith when he should be retiring”.
“That’s me showing him the respect for what he’s done for our club for the 20 years he’s been here and what he’s done for the game,” the coach said.
“That will be his decision and that’s something for the next few weeks or months – whenever it is.”
At this stage, Cameron has taken the off-field ‘Big Three’ at their word and isn’t being rushed into a call.
And the thing is, he doesn’t really need to for the club’s sake. Because as much as they’d like to start planning who will wear the purple No.9 jersey in 2021, they are stocked with options in their favour given Harry Grant and Brandon Smith are on the books.
As for reports Brandon will seek a release if Cameron plays on and that Grant’s contract features an option that allows him to do likewise, neither scenario has to come to a head any time before the season officially finishes in November.
Besides, if Cameron does decide to play on and Melbourne run the risk of losing one of the best young hookers in the game – perhaps even both of them – they are clearly aware of the stakes and wouldn’t offer Cam another deal if they weren’t prepared to potentially pay that price.
And again, while it may not make either of them happy, the club don’t really have to tell Smith the Younger or Grant what 2021 holds for them for the better part of three months.
So while they would prefer to know now, particularly given a departing skipper frees up about a million dollars in the salary cap, the Storm have time on their side, which they have justifiably extended to the greatest player in their history.
Not that he needed them to offer it – with rumours doing the rounds he could end up playing on in Brisbane or the Gold Coast next year, Cameron Smith has once again created for himself all the time he wants.