‘The way they defend- they just suffocate teams in the wet.’
Week 3 of finals is upon us.
Four great teams stand tall with a chance to win it all. The Canberra Raiders, the Penrith Panthers, the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Melbourne Storm.
The latter are led by their skipper Cameron Smith, who is on the verge of announcing his impending retirement after almost 20 years in the Storm jumper. In what may go down as the greatest NRL career ever, Smith has done it all besides winning the best on-field honour on a grand final – the only physical award that has eluded him.
My thoughts are if the Storm make the grand final and Smith sets himself up to win that award if the Storm were successful, the biggest achievement will not just be winning the Clive Churchill Medal.
Without his sidekicks, Billy Slater (arguably the greatest fullback to ever play the game) and Cooper Cronk (arguably a top-three halfback of all-time), Smith has had one (this is his second) season to prove his worth, finishing at a preliminary final last year at the hand of Cronk and his new teammates.
If Smith is able to lead his side to a possible grand final and then a possible grand final win without Slater and Cronk, will that be his greatest achievement?
Let’s break it down a little here.
When they had the formidable big three, the Storm were considered unbeatable at times. Although they did not win it all when they were together, people always asked who the most important member of the three was?.
Smith seemed to be the leader of it all, Slater seemed to be the finesse component and Cronk was the brains that executed it.
When Cronk left after 2017, Slater and Smith still made it to the grand final in 2018 to play against their old mate. Losing that grand final, it was thought that Cronk may have been the key component.
In 2019, Smith led his side to a dominant regular season and then went down again to Cronk’s new friends at Bondi, thus strengthening the argument Cronk was the key figure.
There is no Cronk in 2020 as his side has been eliminated, which has left Smith alone to make the run on his own. Performing fairly consistently, he has his side on par for a strong run but a formidable Canberra side stand in front of them this weekend.
If the Storm make it past this week, it will leave Smith at a crossroads. No Cronk, no Slater, a bunch of young players and the same system.
If Smith can pull a premiership without them both, I do think it will be his greatest achievement. Will it prove who the key member of the three was? Probably not (as Cronk went to possibly a better roster than the Storm had), but nevertheless, to win without those guys, especially in the circumstances of this year, will prove something huge for Smith.
It’s fitting that if he chooses to retire a premiership, a Clive Churchill Medal and possibly the achievement of winning one alone could be on the cards for the GOAT.