Cameron Smith is the best player and best captain I have ever seen.
If I was picking my best ever team, he would be there, front and centre, for a whole host of reasons. Funnily enough, we have obviously crossed paths plenty of times on the field during our careers but I can honestly say I hardly know the bloke at all personally. But his attributes as a player make for a very long list. So do his qualities as a captain. The biggest of them all in my eyes is his remarkable ability to play the long game.
When I was young, playing against Darren Lockyer had a similar feel to playing against Smith as far as poise and control was concerned. It isn't always what they're doing themselves, it's the effect they have on the players around them.
Back in 2008, I was only 19 and having a really good season at the Roosters and we were playing a semifinal against Lockyer and the Broncos. We were going really well and up by about 14 points and I can clearly remember Lockyer, without any sign of panic, just putting kick after kick into the corners and pinning us. You could just sense his presence there and feel the pressure he put us under that day and before we knew it, they were just a tidal wave in the second half and ran over the top of us.
It was on the back of him not panicking and just thinking about the long game. Smith has defined that art better and more often than anyone. He knows better than anyone how to build pressure and how to suffocate opposition.
He's always in total control. Out of almost 400 games in the NRL, you'd only need one hand to count how many times he hasn't been a dominant figure. He's a couple of steps ahead of just about anybody else. And he's a winner. Without knowing the stats, I doubt there is a player out there who has a better winning percentage than he has.
As a player who even now, is always wanting to learn more and more, I have always tended to watch him pretty closely. You look at his great leadership, whether they are down by 14 or up by 14, he doesn't change. That temperate of his is how he's been able to be so consistent and play so many games at such a high quality. He's just a great competitor who the older he has got, the more creative he has become.
Talking to Tim Glasby about him, he says Smith is rarely flustered, loves having a beer after the game and just really loves playing. That calm temperament I reckon is a big reason why he has been so successful.
I remember watching Storm games at the start of the season and thinking how good. He's playing with a young half like Brodie Croft and a rookie fullback in Jahrome Hughes and they were winning games at the death and in golden point. There was one game where Smith literally grabbed Croft and put him where he wanted him to kick the field goal. He doesn't just worry about his own game, he looks after everyone else.
A measure of his influence is when you consider it used to be the big four at Melbourne, then it became the big three and last year it was Smith and Billy Slater and now it's just Smith. He's the only one left and yet they are still one of the competition benchmarks. That says plenty.
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But just because I admire and respect the bloke doesn't mean I'm going down to Melbourne with any reservations. If anything, it just adds to the challenge.
As has been the case in our past six wins, we are going to need our forwards to really stand up like they have been because I'm sure Craig Bellamy and Smith will make sure their side is right up for it.
But if we'll be looking to negate Smith, I reckon they will be wary of what Connor Watson provides out of dummy half for us. Connor has been great over the past two weeks and is really owning the role. His speed and strength out of there just blows you away and his confidence is growing. It will be a great match-up between the master and the apprentice.