“For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, he marks — not that you won or lost — but how you played the game.”
Bollocks. Utter bollocks.
These flowery – albeit inspirational – words penned by the great American sportswriter Grantland Rice in 1927 may once have held some validity. However, almost a century later the reality of professional sport sees them as little more than a relic of a bygone age.
All that matters is whether you won or lost. It is the winners that get remembered.
Whatever you might think of Cameron Smith, one thing is absolutely certain: he is a winner.
Sure, Smith is an arrogant man and that riles so many of us. He does not care one bit if you like him or not. And he doesn’t just think that he is better than you and your team, he knows that he is.
But whether you like it or not, all of the evidence supports his position.
At 37 years of age, he is about to lead his side into their ninth grand final in 15 years. In his whole career, the only finals series his side has missed was the one in 2010 that they weren’t allowed in.
He was just named the NRL’s hooker of the year for the ninth time. He has won the Dally M Medal twice.
He is the greatest winner in the history of rugby league.
Of the record-breaking 429 NRL games he has played, he has won 309 of them. That’s an astounding 72 per cent win rate. During that time, he has scored 3612 points.
He won 26 of his record 42 State of Origin games. Only 16 players have even played as many or more Origins than Smith won.
He boasts 49 wins from his record 56 games for Australia. He’s the only man other than Darren Lockyer to have played more than 49 times for the Kangaroos.
All up, it’s 534 top-grade rugby league matches for 389 victories. He won 11 State of Origin series, four as captain. On top of all of that, he has played in eight grand finals from 18 seasons, and won four of those deciders.
He is a winner. Plain and simple.
Those records are utterly astounding and in 50 years they will still be amazing. Just like Ken Irvine’s 212 tries are still amazing. Just like Norm Provan’s ten straight premierships are still amazing.
I can hear the screams from Smith’s multitude of detractors.
“Smith has only won two premierships! The Storm were stripped of the 2007 and 2009 titles because of their systematic cheating of the salary cap.”
Absolutely they were. But Manly and the Eels respectively were not awarded the titles so as far as I’m concerned the Storm are still the champions of those seasons.
Plus, the Storm are by no means the only side to have been done cheating the cap, and it’s my belief that it’s commonplace in the NRL. Really, Melbourne’s great salary cap sin was they were caught.
Another cry of derision against Smith’s greatness is that he has been at the forefront of bringing such negative plays as grapple tackles, chicken wings, jiu-jitsu and wrestling into the game.
Sure enough, Craig Bellamy has been superb at instituting ways to gain an advantage that have centred around stopping his opponents putting their game plans into action and, through that, controlling the play.
While some rule changes have been necessary to remove the more offensive of these tactics, coaches and their teams have been pushing the bounds of the law forever. That’s nothing new at all. Their job is to win. The 55 coaches who have been sacked in the NRL era alone are testament to them not lasting long if they don’t win.
Smith has been Bellamy’s main man, flawlessly putting his coach’s plans into action on the field since 2003, whether that be by grappling, reefing arms, wrestling players onto their backs and all other manner of plans they’ve come up with. Let us not forget that those tactics have included so many beautiful attacking plays, too.
All the other sides have had the same ability to do the same but have fallen short. And it’s not because they are beholden to a greater moral position that values some ethereal spirit of the game. It is because they aren’t as smart, or strategic, or determined, or practised or disciplined as the Storm have been. As Bellamy and his general Smith have ensured they have been.
They have been at the strategic forefront of the game and have changed the way it is played. Just like cricketers Douglas Jardine and Harold Larwood did in the 1930s with the similarly unpopular Bodyline strategy, Smith has done what has been necessary to win.
While Bill Woodfull is famed for saying “There are two teams out there, one is trying to play cricket and the other is not”, that moral rectitude and righteous indignation had disappeared by the time we were all celebrating fast bowlers such as Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts for putting into action the same winning strategies as Jardine and Larwood had four decades earlier.
Then there is the complaint, such as the one made by Paul Crawley on NRL 360, that Smith isn’t an exciting player to watch.
“He doesn’t particularly put me on the edge of my seat when I watch him play. Like when you watch Joey (Andrew Johns) it was just… it was exhilarating. Rugby league is not just about how long you play or what your winning record says and everything like that. It’s an art!”
Well Paul, whether you like it or not, Smith is a rugby league artist of the highest order and success. His medium is determination, regimentation and consistency in the football arena. He has repeatedly created triumphs of the highest value over a career that has now spanned almost 20 seasons.
Having now penned all of these sentiments it shames me to admit that part of the reason I’m on the Panthers bandwagon for the 2020 NRL grand final is I’m totally sick of Cameron Smith and his success.
Most of our issue with him is not how he has played the game, it’s because he so regularly beats our sides.
It is because we are jealous. Pure and simple.
I’d give anything for my team to have the record his Melbourne side boasts, and you can be sure I’d be totally unmoved by all of the complaints about how it had been achieved if they had.
Cameron Smith is the best player I’ve ever seen.
And win or lose on Sunday, he absolutely is – and will be remembered as – one of the greatest rugby league players of all time.