Infotainment Factory: Gal: What I really think of Cameron Smith

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Sunday, 14 April 2019

Gal: What I really think of Cameron Smith


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PAUL GALLEN writes exclusively for Wide World of Sports on future Immortal Cameron Smith. Watch Gal tonight on 100% Footy with James Bracey, Phil Gould and Darren Lockyer, Channel Nine at 10pm AEST.

Cameron Smith is now the greatest point-scorer in NRL history – yet point-scoring is the last thing I associate with him when it comes to rugby league.

For one, he’s scored 43 NRL tries and I’ve scored 62!

But here’s what I think of when it comes to a player who’s mastered the art of our game like no one we’ve ever seen before.

My first Test was in 2008 at the SCG. We turn up for training and the boys are in the changerooms having a chat, carrying on, getting strapped and putting their boots on.

I walked out somewhere around the middle of the squad. Cameron was already out there passing and practising general-play kicks.

Then at the end of training, he’s practising goal-kicking. Cameron wasn’t even the goal-kicker for that game; it was Johnathan Thurston.

I thought, ‘Well, he’s young, only played a couple of Tests – he’s obviously showing that he’s keen’.

Yet 32 Test matches later, Cameron was still doing exactly the same thing.

For my last Test in 2016, up in Newcastle, I walk out for training and he’s already on the field practising passing and general-play kicking. At the end of the session, he’s goal-kicking.

And I still remember our training sessions while touring overseas. We’re sitting on the bus, everyone has had their showers, everyone’s dressed … and we’re waiting for Cameron Smith.

It almost got to the point where it was pissing blokes off! We were always thinking, ‘Where the hell is he? Hurry up!’ Every single time, without fail, Cameron was the last one on the bus.

But it wasn’t because he was being a smart arse. It was because he was always the last one off the training paddock.

A lot of people like Cameron Smith as a player. A lot of people don’t – mostly opposition fans, people who call him an assistant referee. I’ll never forget when he got sent for 10 in the bin at Sharkies last year; the social media memes afterwards were classic!

But for me, any dislike towards him is tall poppy syndrome. People feel that way because he’s been so successful.

Like it or not, he’s a great player. I certainly found that out from playing with him and unfortunately, from being on the wrong end of plenty of Queensland Origin series wins.

When you see first-hand a bloke training the way that Cameron does, putting so much effort into his trade, you cannot take anything away from him. If he got a win over you in Origin, you might be upset but you can’t be jealous. All you can do it respect it.

As a NSW fan, thank god he’s stopped playing Origin! He still could, I have no doubt. He works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen, especially on those little parts of his game.

Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater were the same. They’d stay behind after training practicing plays with edge back-rowers. That’s why they’re so good. But Cameron went that extra mile, all the time.

When I say that he’s mastered our game - Cameron plays with his brain more than his body.

Look at this weekend’s game against the Cowboys: he ran for six metres. That’s not unusual in club games; he’s been that way for five years I reckon. He’s a serious running threat from dummy-half in big games – Tests, Origin, grand finals – but not week-to-week.

It’s his ability to control the game from hooker that sets him apart. His vision.

He brings the forwards on to the ball, chooses what way to go. He’s got five or six things going on every ruck but has the ability to choose the right option virtually every time.

He rarely makes errors. He had one on Friday night that wasn’t even an error – the referee got it wrong!

He rarely misses tackles, either. His defence is another cornerstone of his game. We saw him get run over by Jayden Okunbor recently but incidents like that have been few and far between in his career.

He’s so durable, I think, because he’s largely taken the contact out of the game for himself. He only runs in big games and he doesn’t put on big hits in defence; he takes the impact and then controls the tackle to the ground with his wrestling.

Being able to play those different styles depending on the game - that’s mastering rugby league. He can play the tough game where he runs, or master it with his mind, controlling the play around him. He’ll control the opposition, control the speed with his kicking game and always select the right pass.

That’s the total package in rugby league.

While I’m sure Cameron has considerable natural ability, I don’t think it’s all come naturally to him. The rest is down to pure hard work, and I’ve never witnessed a player who puts in the hours like Cameron Smith.

Playing 32 Tests with him, I saw it every single training session, without fail. Meticulous preparation. Practising kicks out of dummy-half, jumping down the short side, practising his hook kick back inside to the middle, pulling it up a metre inside the goal line from 40 metres out.

Sure, you can say that Cameron’s always been lucky enough to play in the best teams. Queensland and Australia have been dominant for the past 10-15 years and the Melbourne Storm have been the benchmark NRL club during that time. As far as the point-scoring records go, he’s always had good players around him.

But part of having good players around him is that Cameron is at the Storm. Players want to play with Cameron Smith. It’s a huge thing for that club’s recruitment.

And he not only attracts good players; when recruits get there, the likes of Cameron get the best out of them. I always say that I don’t see too many players leave Melbourne and have the same careers.

Cooper Cronk’s obviously a different beast; a special player. But other guys who have left the Storm, especially forwards who have been really good players down there, have gone to other clubs and just haven’t been the same. That’s because in Melbourne, you’re running off Cameron Smith.

Cam and I don’t keep in touch, but we’ve got a healthy, respectful relationship where we shake hands and say hello whenever we see each other. To be able to say that I played 30-odd Test matches with him and about 20 Origins against him, it’s something I’ll be proud of.

I think he’s the best player to ever play the game. Certainly in my time.

Cameron Smith will be remembered forever. He will be an Immortal, there’s no doubt about that.

The Immortal tag gets thrown around too much these days, I think. Immortal status should be reserved for guys who have a direct influence on the game whenever they step on the field.

Cameron has that influence over the result in nearly every game he plays.

It’s not easy to admit how good opposition players are, but we all have to acknowledge that Cameron Smith is a champion.

PAUL GALLEN writes exclusively for Wide World of Sports on future Immortal Cameron Smith. Watch Gal tonight on 100% Footy with James Bracey, Phil Gould and Darren Lockyer, Channel Nine at 10pm AEST.

Cameron Smith is now the greatest point-scorer in NRL history – yet point-scoring is the last thing I associate with him when it comes to rugby league.

For one, he’s scored 43 NRL tries and I’ve scored 62!

But here’s what I think of when it comes to a player who’s mastered the art of our game like no one we’ve ever seen before.

My first Test was in 2008 at the SCG. We turn up for training and the boys are in the changerooms having a chat, carrying on, getting strapped and putting their boots on.

I walked out somewhere around the middle of the squad. Cameron was already out there passing and practising general-play kicks.

Then at the end of training, he’s practising goal-kicking. Cameron wasn’t even the goal-kicker for that game; it was Johnathan Thurston.

I thought, ‘Well, he’s young, only played a couple of Tests – he’s obviously showing that he’s keen’.

Yet 32 Test matches later, Cameron was still doing exactly the same thing.

For my last Test in 2016, up in Newcastle, I walk out for training and he’s already on the field practising passing and general-play kicking. At the end of the session, he’s goal-kicking.

And I still remember our training sessions while touring overseas. We’re sitting on the bus, everyone has had their showers, everyone’s dressed … and we’re waiting for Cameron Smith.

It almost got to the point where it was pissing blokes off! We were always thinking, ‘Where the hell is he? Hurry up!’ Every single time, without fail, Cameron was the last one on the bus.

But it wasn’t because he was being a smart arse. It was because he was always the last one off the training paddock.

A lot of people like Cameron Smith as a player. A lot of people don’t – mostly opposition fans, people who call him an assistant referee. I’ll never forget when he got sent for 10 in the bin at Sharkies last year; the social media memes afterwards were classic!

But for me, any dislike towards him is tall poppy syndrome. People feel that way because he’s been so successful.

Like it or not, he’s a great player. I certainly found that out from playing with him and unfortunately, from being on the wrong end of plenty of Queensland Origin series wins.

When you see first-hand a bloke training the way that Cameron does, putting so much effort into his trade, you cannot take anything away from him. If he got a win over you in Origin, you might be upset but you can’t be jealous. All you can do it respect it.

As a NSW fan, thank god he’s stopped playing Origin! He still could, I have no doubt. He works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen, especially on those little parts of his game.

Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater were the same. They’d stay behind after training practicing plays with edge back-rowers. That’s why they’re so good. But Cameron went that extra mile, all the time.

When I say that he’s mastered our game - Cameron plays with his brain more than his body.

Look at this weekend’s game against the Cowboys: he ran for six metres. That’s not unusual in club games; he’s been that way for five years I reckon. He’s a serious running threat from dummy-half in big games – Tests, Origin, grand finals – but not week-to-week.

It’s his ability to control the game from hooker that sets him apart. His vision.

He brings the forwards on to the ball, chooses what way to go. He’s got five or six things going on every ruck but has the ability to choose the right option virtually every time.

He rarely makes errors. He had one on Friday night that wasn’t even an error – the referee got it wrong!

He rarely misses tackles, either. His defence is another cornerstone of his game. We saw him get run over by Jayden Okunbor recently but incidents like that have been few and far between in his career.

He’s so durable, I think, because he’s largely taken the contact out of the game for himself. He only runs in big games and he doesn’t put on big hits in defence; he takes the impact and then controls the tackle to the ground with his wrestling.

Being able to play those different styles depending on the game - that’s mastering rugby league. He can play the tough game where he runs, or master it with his mind, controlling the play around him. He’ll control the opposition, control the speed with his kicking game and always select the right pass.

That’s the total package in rugby league.

While I’m sure Cameron has considerable natural ability, I don’t think it’s all come naturally to him. The rest is down to pure hard work, and I’ve never witnessed a player who puts in the hours like Cameron Smith.

Playing 32 Tests with him, I saw it every single training session, without fail. Meticulous preparation. Practising kicks out of dummy-half, jumping down the short side, practising his hook kick back inside to the middle, pulling it up a metre inside the goal line from 40 metres out.

Sure, you can say that Cameron’s always been lucky enough to play in the best teams. Queensland and Australia have been dominant for the past 10-15 years and the Melbourne Storm have been the benchmark NRL club during that time. As far as the point-scoring records go, he’s always had good players around him.

But part of having good players around him is that Cameron is at the Storm. Players want to play with Cameron Smith. It’s a huge thing for that club’s recruitment.

And he not only attracts good players; when recruits get there, the likes of Cameron get the best out of them. I always say that I don’t see too many players leave Melbourne and have the same careers.

Cooper Cronk’s obviously a different beast; a special player. But other guys who have left the Storm, especially forwards who have been really good players down there, have gone to other clubs and just haven’t been the same. That’s because in Melbourne, you’re running off Cameron Smith.

Cam and I don’t keep in touch, but we’ve got a healthy, respectful relationship where we shake hands and say hello whenever we see each other. To be able to say that I played 30-odd Test matches with him and about 20 Origins against him, it’s something I’ll be proud of.

I think he’s the best player to ever play the game. Certainly in my time.

Cameron Smith will be remembered forever. He will be an Immortal, there’s no doubt about that.

The Immortal tag gets thrown around too much these days, I think. Immortal status should be reserved for guys who have a direct influence on the game whenever they step on the field.

Cameron has that influence over the result in nearly every game he plays.

It’s not easy to admit how good opposition players are, but we all have to acknowledge that Cameron Smith is a champion.

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