1 August, 2017, 12:00 am
MATHEW Johns claims Broncos made ‘biggest blunder of all-time’ by missing Cameron Smith
CAMERON Smith’s sensational performance in his 350th NRL game on Sunday has reignited one of sport’s never-ending debates.
The 34-year-old scored 12 points, set up four tries and made 31 tackles in a man of the match showing for Melbourne in its 40-6 drubbing of Manly at AAMI Park.
It’s amazing he was playing at all given he suffered a pectoral injury last week against Canberra, and to produce the effort he did adds further weight to the argument he’s rugby league’s greatest of all time (GOAT).
Former NSW and Australian representative Matthew Johns certainly puts him on a pedestal above all else.
Smith wants to play 4002:14
“He’s playing in obvious discomfort but dominated the contest, as he’s done at Origin level and Test level,” Johns said on the Triple M Grill Team on Monday.
“He’s the best big-game player of all time. I’m watching yesterday saying, maybe he is the best we’ve ever seen. We speak a lot about (Johnathan) Thurston and the debate’s (been) Joey (Andrew Johns) or JT, but we’re forgetting about Cam Smith. In my opinion I think he is the best of all time.”
All of Smith’s 350 appearances have been in the Storm jersey but, growing up in Queensland, forging a career with the Broncos was always on the cards. Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett tried to lure Smith to the club as a 16-year-old but he chose life in Melbourne over staying in the Queensland capital because the Victorian club showed more initial interest in him.
“The Broncos didn’t see a lot in me until the Storm came along, then they made an offer for me to go to the Broncos,” Smith told the Courier Mail in 2015.
“Although I was a massive Broncos fan and wanted to play for them, I saw a better opportunity at Melbourne and it’s turned out to be a good decision.”
The Broncos were reportedly in the hunt for Smith’s signature in 2014 but again the hooker recommitted to Melbourne until the end of 2018.
Brisbane would have been his destination had he chosen to leave the Storm, but Smith said he never received a direct offer from Brisbane to come to Red Hill.
Johns said Brisbane’s inability to keep the Queensland native in Brisbane when he was a teenager would forever haunt the club.
“They (the Broncos) had an opportunity to sign him and they didn’t pick him up.
“That is, in rugby league terms, just about the biggest blunder of all time,” Johns said.
Smith became just the second Australian behind Darren Lockyer to reach the 50-Test milestone when he notched up his half century in this year’s Anzac Test against New Zealand.
He’s also the most capped Origin player of all time, playing his 42nd match for Queensland in the third match of the 2017 series.
Sitting equal on NRL appearances with Wests and Bulldogs legend Terry Lamb, Smith needs to play just six more matches to overtake Lockyer (355 games) as the NRL’s most capped player.
Smith’s longtime Maroons and Kangaroos teammate Thurston was full of admiration for Smith.
“He’s the GOAT,” Thurston said on the Sunday Footy Show.
“I’ve never seen anyone control a game like he does.
“I thought Locky (Darren Lockyer) was the best, but this bloke is four or five sets ahead of every team and he knows how to win matches on his own. He controls the game better than anyone.”
Andrew Johns was also full of praise.
“I think he’s the best player I’ve ever seen, probably since Wally Lewis,” he said.
“Just the little things, as a halfback, the way he delivers the ball to Cronk and JT, the ball is always perfect, he is absolutely perfect. He sees the game better than anyone.”
Ex-Storm teammate Greg Inglis said Smith is capable of playing 400 NRL games, but the veteran rake isn’t looking that far ahead.
“I’ve heard some people talk about the 400 mark but I’m just enjoying playing at the moment,” Smith said. “Touch wood I stay healthy and can play as many games as I can and if I’m able to reach 400, that’s great.
“It’s not something I’m looking at and trying to achieve … 400 that would be quite special and nice to achieve but it’s quite a long way away.”
Smith, who started his Storm career back in 2002, has stunningly only missed 11 games through injury.