1Melbourne great Cameron Smith has finally confirmed he is retiring from the NRL after 19 seasons, with the Storm’s 2020 grand final win his last match.
Cameron Smith’s Melbourne Storm career fittingly ended right where it began.
As an 18-year-old Smith made his NRL debut in 2002 at the old Olympic Park.
Now 37, Smith stood looking over that ground as he called time on his NRL career after “wrestling” with the decision for the past four months.
And his statue, which sits between their old home ground, and the current one AAMI Park, will ensure Smith is always a part of Melbourne.
His retirement brings to a close an extraordinary 19-season career that has him touted as a future rugby league Immortal.
The Brisbane-born hooker played a record 430 games and is the only player in history to surpass 400.
Smith says he only made a decision last week and thought the unveiling of the statue would be the perfect spot to make it public.
He told coach Craig Bellamy and football manager Frank Ponissi on Wednesday morning before letting his teammates and club staff know just before the formalities.
“I’ve spent a few months up in Queensland with the family and had really good opportunities to think over my thoughts on playing on or not,” Smith said on Wednesday.
“I look back on my career and found I was very fortunate to be part of a wonderful organisation filled with many great footballers and great people and it felt like the right time to finish off the back of what was a very successful season last year.
“I couldn’t have asked for more than finishing with the premiership for a club I played my entire career with.”
He said his decision was made more difficult in that he still felt physically and mentally capable of going around for a 20th season.
“I still felt my form was good enough to play in the NRL but at the end of the day once I spent good quality time with my family up in Queensland I knew it was the right time to finish.
“It just gives me the opportunity to enjoy the next phase of my life – hopefully it will involve rugby league in some capacity but the most important thing for me is my family.”
It was Smith’s first official Storm appearance since their 2020 grand final win over Penrith and comes just a day out from the club’s NRL season opener against South Sydney.
Smith said he won’t be at the game as it’s his oldest daughter Jada’s 13th birthday but he intends returning to a home match to farewell the Storm faithful.
He’s the last to retire of Melbourne’s so-called “Big Three”, that included Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, who were so integral to the club’s sustained success.
Slater’s statue, also unveiled Wednesday, sits alongside Smith’s, with the retired fullback paying tribute to his teammate and great friend.
“I still remember when we were 18 years old in Brisbane and Cameron got the call to come down and debut for Melbourne,” Slater said.
“He’s done a whole heap for the game – I don’t know of a more influential player who has played the game.
“He’s certainly contributed a whole heap to my career and what I’ve been able to do on the football field.”
Playing in eight grand finals, Smith steered the Storm to NRL premierships in 2007, 2009, 2012, 2017 and 2020, although the first two titles were later stripped for salary-cap breaches.
The durable hooker was also instrumental in Queensland’s eight-year State of Origin reign between 2006 and 2013, while he was represented Australia from 2006 until his 2017 retirement from representative football.
While he has moved to the Gold Coast, Smith said he had already been in talks with the Storm about his future involvement but he was in no rush.
“I’ve really enjoyed having my own time to do my own thing away from the career I’ve had and the demands of the NRL.
“It’s been refreshing to be able to able to pick and choose what I’d like to do rather than be dictated to by a training schedule or a season draw.”