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Sport Why Cam Smith is running from the inevitable

04:43  20 november  2019
04:43  20 november  2019 Source:   wwos.nine.com.au

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a group of football players on a field: NRL appearances record holder Cameron Smith is chaired off the ground.© Getty NRL appearances record holder Cameron Smith is chaired off the ground. Dealing with change is hard for everybody but when you're a legendary footballer with every accolade in the book, knowing the Ferrari ride could soon be coming to an end can be a daunting reality.

That's why it comes as no surprise to read reports of Storm great Cameron Smith wanting to return for an 18th NRL season, with the game's highest points scorer being thrown up as a possible halfback option for the club, giving Craig Bellamy an opportunity to rejig his spine to add the likes of Brandon Smith at hooker and Ryan Papanhuyzen at fullback, alongside Cameron Munster at five-eighth.

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The obvious question is: What does Smith have to gain by playing on considering his standing in the game?

While the league community puts Smith up on a pedestal, for much of his career he has been forced to deal with criticism of his playing style.

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In Sydney particularly he is seen as the poster boy for the dark arts that gained prominence in the NRL over the last decade and in 2019 the public digs at him took a personal turn after his wife Barb was given a diamond ring to commemorate his NRL games record.

A clearly fed-up Smith acknowledged the impact that had on him, hinting after the Storm were knocked out a week before the grand final that it might convince him to hang up the boots prematurely.

That came at the end of a gruelling campaign in which the 36-year-old was sin-binned for only the second time in 18 seasons for slapping Parramatta's Reed Mahoney; an uncharacteristic moment that led some to believe him time was coming to an end.

Billy Slater looking at the camera: Billy Slater has launched an impassioned defence of his former teammate Cameron Smith after a week in the headlines. Billy Slater has launched an impassioned defence of his former teammate Cameron Smith after a week in the headlines.

Smith is part of the NRL furniture and is arguably the game's GOAT, paving a path to league immortality once he decides to hang up the boots. The Queenslander is an ornament to the sport and is arguably the best to ever play.

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He's the good guy. The kind of man parents want their kids to imitate on and off the pitch.

The kind of man the suits love because they can trust he's not going to create another headline during the fraught months of the NRL off-season.

He's won the Dally M Medal twice. Taken out the Golden Boot on two occasions and awarded the NRL's Dally M Hooker of the Year seven times.

Smith is currently the NRL games record holder with 411 appearances, the only player to play over 400 games. He's also the all-time points-scorer in NRL history, surpassing Hazem El Masri's 2,418 points this year. He's the only player to have more than 20 wins for Queensland, playing 42 games for his state as a part of the most dominant Maroons team in Origin history.

Cameron Smith wearing a football jersey: Cameron Smith has an aura that even seems to work on referees.© Getty Cameron Smith has an aura that even seems to work on referees.

One would think pages of achievements would inspire feelings of contentment and satisfaction within Smith, to the point where he would feel comfortable retiring at the top of his game knowing he slayed all challenges that were thrown his way.

Yet the professional athlete is a different beast when it comes to facing the obstacles of transition. The daunting reality of having to leave all the skills they've worked so hard to attain over the years behind - even though they feel they can keep plying their craft - is understandably a difficult prospect to face, along with outsiders making judgement calls about you when they don't even know you.

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Then there's the fact that life after football can be too quiet, especially for a star athlete used to the feeling of adrenaline pumping through their veins playing a high intensity sport in front of thousands of fans on a weekly basis. And when it's over it's over, there's no going back.

After winning the minor premiership, the Storm were outmatched in the 2019 finals, leaving 36-year-old Smith questioning his desire to see out the remaining year of his contract.

Storm captain Cameron Smith admits he'll seriously consider retiring from rugby league in coming weeks.© Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Storm captain Cameron Smith admits he'll seriously consider retiring from rugby league in coming weeks.

He spoke candidly to former Storm teammate Billy Slater after their grand final qualifying loss, openly questioning his future in the game. The vision prompted some to suggest the Maroons legend was nearing the end and was strongly considering quitting.

While that interview led to questions that have since been answered, with Smith deciding to play on, Slater this week told Wide World of Sports, he was sure Smith "has thought about this situation for many years", acknowledging that making the "correct decision" is a very difficult thing to do.

"He's probably waiting for his body and his mind to tell him when it's over. Footy gives you such an adrenaline rush and that's what you miss," Slater said.

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"It's a big decision because at the age of 36 going on 37, there's no going back. You can't take the season and say I've made the wrong decision."

Having gone through the same thought process before finally deciding to hang up his boots last year, Slater said the hardest thing to let go was the feeling of perfecting your craft and moving on from that when you know that you're still capable of it.

Cameron Smith et al. standing in front of a crowd: The Melbourne Storm were reportedly stunned when Cam Smith revealed he was still uncertain over his playing future. The Melbourne Storm were reportedly stunned when Cam Smith revealed he was still uncertain over his playing future.

"For me the scary part about it was that for 20 years you work on this craft you try and perfect," Slater said.

"You become really confident in performing your craft and then one day you decide you're not going to do it anymore even though you can still do it.

"I retired last year but I could have still played this year. So to decide you're going to walk away from that and the financial security that comes with it and then you're going to go and do something you are not sure yet if you're going to be good at is hard."

While pro athletes are overly competitive and sacrifice a whole lot to win, Slater doesn't think adding more accolades to the list is what is driving Smith to play into his late thirties.

"I don't think it's about ticking off any more boxes," he said.

"Look I was in a position where I retired, I had an opportunity to retire the year before. After being involved in three successful teams, Queensland, Australia and the Storm for the 2017 season.

"And I just wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to give up that feeling of running out in front of a big stadium.

"So I don't think putting another trophy in the cabinet or putting another medal around his neck is what it's about."

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