Former Melbourne Storm, Queensland and Australia captain Cameron Smith has ended months of speculation by announcing that his playing career has come to an end.
Smith was in Melbourne on Wednesday alongside his former team-mate Billy Slater for the unveiling of statues to both players outside the Storm’s home ground, AAMI Park.
And he decided it was the right time to finally reveal that he has retired as a player, with the Storm putting out a statement confirming his decision.
The Storm statement described Smith as “not only among the most decorated players the game has ever seen” but someone who “made an immeasurable contribution to our club on and off the field, and his legacy will be remembered in Melbourne forever”.
Storm Chairman Matthew Tripp believes Smith will be remembered as the greatest Storm player of all time, while he has done more than anyone else to raise the profile of the Storm and Rugby League in a state in which it previously would never have registered.
“Cameron is a once-in-a-generation footballer and role model, not only for all Storm and NRL players now and in the future, but for all sports men and women,” Tripp said.
“There is no doubt that without Cameron at the Storm, we wouldn’t have experienced the outstanding level of success that we have over his time at the club.
“He has a list of achievements that will be almost impossible to match.
“Not only has he been the most influential player in the game over the past two decades, but he is arguably the greatest player of all time and has become a household name throughout our home city of Melbourne and home state of Victoria.”
Smith, 37, is the highest-capped player in Australian Rugby League history, with a record 430 NRL games, 42 State of Origin appearances and 56 Tests for Australia.
He made his NRL debut in 2002 as a halfback before making the transition to hooker.
His long-time Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy described Smith as an all-time great and possibly the best ever.
“I think he’s the greatest player I’ve ever seen,” said Bellamy.
“For what he’s done, no one has gone over 400 NRL games and 100 rep games, and his success as captain is quite remarkable.
“I can’t see it happening again. It’s hard to describe his effect on our club and the game. The biggest thing is how long he’s done it for.
“Hopefully we can keep Cameron around the club. If we can get him to give advice to our ruck plays and dummy half, his leadership is unparalleled.
“It would have been strange for me to watch him in another jumper but that’s obviously not going to happen [now],” Bellamy said.
“At the same time, I still would’ve been his number one supporter even if he was playing against us.”
Slater described Smith as the most influential player he had seen.
“Everyone’s had their opinion but you’ve got to get it right. You can’t retire for eight months and then come back and play at 38,” said Slater.
“I still remember when we were 18 and Cameron got the call to come to Melbourne and debut.
“I don’t know of a more influential player to have played the game. I feel privileged he’s standing next to me announcing it.”
Smith himself explained why he had made the decision now, after pondering his position for so long.
“I’ve spent a few months now up in Queensland with the family and had a really good chance to think about playing on or to not play on,”he said.
“I looked back on my career and just found that I was very fortunate to be part of a wonderful organisation filled with many great footballers and people as well.
“It felt like the right time to finish off the back of what was a very successful season last year, albeit a different season being away from home.
“You couldn’t have asked for more than finishing with a Premiership at a club I’ve played my whole career with.
“I’ve been wrestling with the decision for quite some time and that’s why it’s taken so long. I spoke to a handful of people who are quite close to me throughout last year while the season was still on.
“In my head I probably made the decision a week ago but knowing the unveiling of the statue was today and I was going to be in Melbourne I thought it was the perfect opportunity to announce my decision.
“It just gives me an opportunity now to enjoy what is going to be the next phase and chapter in my life and hopefully it will involve Rugby League in some capacity.”