Star forward Jeremy Cameron has told the Greater Western Sydney Giants he wants to leave the club and move back to Victoria next season.
Geelong is regarded as the preferred destination for Cameron should he leave the Giants
The Giants said they were “disappointed” to learn of Cameron’s intentions
Cameron was a foundation player with the Giants and won the 2019 Coleman Medal
It is expected Cameron, who has kicked 427 goals in 171 matches for GWS, will end up at Geelong, who are preparing for Saturday night’s grand final against Richmond.
“We are disappointed by this news, having tabled what we believe to have been a suitable offer to retain Jeremy,” Giants football manager Jason McCartney said.
“With Jeremy being a restricted free agent, we have a number of avenues to now explore to get the best possible outcome for the Giants.”
While Cameron, who grew up in country Victoria, has taken his time deciding his future, many thought the 2019 Coleman medallist would remain with the Giants, where he has been since the start of his AFL career in 2012.
Geelong will be a frightening proposition for rival clubs should Cameron move to the Cats, as he would team up with veteran forward Tom Hawkins.
Cameron struggled this season, as did GWS, who finished 10th on the ladder just a season after reaching their first grand final.
He kicked just 24 goals in the 2020 season, a figure down from a career-high 76 last year.
But the 27-year-old is one of the game’s most dangerous forwards when in peak form.
There are only seven active AFL players with more career goals than Cameron, including Hawkins (600) and Sydney’s Lance Franklin (944).
The Giants are facing a concerning exodus, with Cameron joining defenders Zac Williams and Aidan Corr and midfielder Jackson Hately in informing the club they want to leave.
Veteran defender Heath Shaw has not been offered a new contract, while ruckman Sam Jacobs has retired.
There remains speculation Hately’s fellow 2018 draftee Jye Caldwell will also leave as he considers interests from a number of Victorian clubs.
Holden driver Shane van Gisbergen has won his first Bathurst 1000, holding off Ford’s Cameron Waters in a tight finish at Mount Panorama.
Shane van Gisbergen finished second last year and in 2016
His co-driver, Garth Tander, had won the race three times before this year — in 2000, 2009 and 2011
Safety cars with nine laps and five laps left compressed the field in the closing stages
Two late safety cars compressed the field in the closing stages, making the final stages of the 161-lap, 1000km race a dramatic 18km shootout.
However New Zealand’s Van Gisbergen was good enough to keep distance between himself and the chasing pack to claim victory by just 0.8663 of a second, going one better than his second-place finishes in 2016 and 2019.
His co-driver, Garth Tander, secured his fourth win in the 161-lap race, after taking out the 2000, 2009 and 2011 editions.
Chaz Mostert finished in third spot for Holden to round out the podium, ahead of Fabian Coulthard and Scott McLaughlin in the Shell V-Power Racing Team Ford Mustangs.
Jamie Whincup provided the first drama of the race when he went wide with too much pace at turn three and slammed his Holden into the wall, bringing out the day’s first safety car on lap 33, ending his and veteran Craig Lowndes’ race prematurely.
By that time, Waters had overtaken early leader McLaughlin and set an imposing pace to distance himself from McLaughlin’s co-driver, Tim Slade.
The pack was compressed again after Jordan Boys spun and slammed his Cub Cadet Mowers Holden into the wall on lap 52 for the day’s second safety car, but the race really spiced up when the promised rain began to fall on the mountain on lap 53, just after the safety car was brought in.
Van Gisbergen rose to the occasion in the slippery conditions, scything his way to the front of the pack as the rest of the field struggled for grip during the brief shower.
Van Gisbergen and Tander led from that point onwards, never relinquishing their position during the tense, tactical middle period of the race and its dramatic, high-paced conclusion.
Waters and van Gisbergen were well clear out front and duelling for first place with an exemplary display of faultless, high-pressure driving until two crashes forced the safety car to come out with nine laps to go.
Jack Smith from SCT Motor Sports skidded into a sand trap, and almost simultaneously Bryce Fullwood’s Mobil 1 Middy’s Racing Holden locked up and slammed into a couple of walls at the top of the mountain.
The race resumed with six laps to go, but soon after Zane Goddard barrelled into another wall and was left stranded on the track with three working wheels, prompting another safety car and a dramatic finish.
All through the tension, van Gisbergen kept his cool and masterfully drove away from his rivals to claim his maiden Peter Brock trophy.
Relive the drama in our live blog.
By Simon Smale
Shane van Gisbergen wins Bathurst 1000
We’ll wrap up the live coverage here for now.
Thank you so much for joining me over the course of the day, it has been a pleasure to bring you all the action from Mount Panorama.
Fantastic performance from all the leading drivers, it’s too easy to forget that this was the ONLY endurance race of the season, at one of the hardest circuits in motorsport.
Shane van Gisbergen has come so close before, no closer than last year, but this time he excelled and drove away from a field that was pushing to the very extreme of their limits, lap after lap of faultless driving.
I hope you enjoyed the coverage and we’ll catch you again next time.
By Simon Smale
‘So special to win here’: Shane van Gisbergen
Shane van Gisbergen was all smiles on the podium, and understandably so.
He said he had serious doubts as to whether he would ever get a chance to win the race after coming close the last couple of years.
“So special to win here. Got close so may times and then you just begin to doubt, especially in those last few laps, you start to think what is going to go wrong?
“But the car ran faultless all day and got better and better.”
Audience comment by bob gibson
congratulation holden team good to see you go out on a blaze of glory
Audience comment by Peter
By Simon Smale
I’ve never driven so hard: Chaz Mostert
Chaz Mostert has been interviewed on the podium, where the Ford driver acknowledged that he had never had to push so hard.
“I haven’t [ever driven so hard],” Mostert said on the podium.
“That felt like wildfires at the end. Congratulations to these guys behind me. They did a fantastic job all day and put entertainment on for everyone around the country.
“A big thank you to our whole team here and also in Melbourne. It has been a hard year and to all the Holden fans thank you for supporting us this year and we will see what happens next year.
By Simon Smale
By Simon Smale
By Simon Smale
Scott McLaughlin wins the Supercar Championship
This was confirmed last race, but Scott McLaughlin has been awarded the Supercars Championship trophy after what might be the last time he races in Supercars.
“Congratulations to Shane and 888 racing for their win today. They made it happen today.
“It has been an amazing year. I think the comradarie between the teams.
“Obviously last year was pretty full on, tit-for-tat, then this year … everyone knows how hard it has been for everyone and there has been a lot of good hard racing, the best racing we have had.
“We didn’t have a turnaround to come back and fix the cars. Credit to the Victorian teams for the sacrifices they gave for us, their families, the sport, the volunteers
By Simon Smale
‘I didn’t need that last safety car’ Garth Tander
Garth Tander, who is now a four-time winner of Bathurst, has also had a chat with the TV team.
“It was OK until two to go and the last restart, didn’t need that one,” Tander said.
“Awesome job Shane, the way he managed the last three stints, amazing, very impressive.
“This will take a little while to sink in, it’s been such a strange year and sitting on the couch for six months and then firing up and being on the road for five weeks to do the race, really special one and I’ll sit back and enjoy it.”
Audience comment by Gaia
Great work on the blog today Simon. Nail-biter of a finish! I did try to send some more rain across to the races, but it fizzled out on the way there.
Audience comment by Jk
Brilliant! Great way to end the Holden brand.
Audience comment by Ritchie McC
Audience comment by Han
Been either going to or watching Bathurst since 1963. Fabulous memories and added another one today. Thanks Simon (wan-Kenobi).
By Simon Smale
‘I wish my mum and dad were here’: Shane van Gisbergen
Here is Shane van Gisbergen, the 62nd winner of Bathurst.
“Just awesome, van Gisbergen said.
“The last few laps were tough with the safety car, but the team did a faultless job and thanks to the guys, we had a great car and great way to send out Holden and thanks to Garth Tander, he did an awesome job.
“I wish my mum and dad were here.
“Each time [Cameron Waters] got close through turn two, with good grip and I knew I’d be OK. The last stints were just qualifying, just awesome.
“[It was a] real track position race, super hard to pass when the rain came.
“I was a bit slow at the start and got going and that got us to the front and we never left there. Awesome day.”
He said he was looking forward to getting back to New Zealand on Tuesday to celebrate.
Audience comment by Graeme
Great way to say goodbye holden
By Simon Smale
By Simon Smale
Thanks Simon, exciting blog, can I just ask, what time is Dan going to be on?
-Sorry, couldn’t resist.
No Dan, but we’ll hear from Shane van Gisbergen very shortly I’d expect.
Audience comment by David (in Japan)
I’ve been kept updated all day thanks to your great commentary – much appreciated
Ford’s Cameron Waters has smashed the Bathurst 1000 qualifying lap record to claim Supercars pole for Sunday’s great race at Mount Panorama.
Touted as a genuine contender to win the 161-lap race for the first time, Waters dominated the top-10 shootout on Saturday in his Mustang.
His time of 2 minutes 3.559 seconds eclipsed former Tickford teammate Chaz Mostert’s lap of 2.03.789 set last year.
It was Waters’ fifth career pole, setting him up for a tilt at winning with star co-driver Will Davison, a two-time Bathurst 1000 winner.
The 26-year-old Waters pipped three-time champion Scott McLaughlin, who has stamped his mark as one of the Supercars’ greatest qualifiers.
Mostert, who switched to Holden this year, was the fastest Commodore driver in third to start alongside Nick Percart on the second row of the grid.
Seven-time champion Jamie Whincup’s testing relationship with Mount Panorama continued as a mistake near the end of his lap saw the Triple Eight legend finish 10th.
Waters completed his first solo race victory at Tailem Bend last month and has carried that hot form into the season finale at Bathurst.
“That was absolutely awesome. Knew the car had something special in it, but just had to put it all together,” Waters said.
“This is so special for all the boys at Tickford. They’ve earnt their piece in this whole period we have been away so this [pole money] will go towards beer Sunday night.
“I made a few little mistakes, but the car was just hooked up. The boys have done so well to give me something like that.”
Fords on the front of the grid is the last thing Holden supporters want ahead of the red lion’s last Bathurst race in an official capacity before the brand is retired by General Motors at the end of this year.
McLaughlin claimed his maiden Bathurst victory last year but that result ended a run of four-straight Holden wins dating back to 2015.
The start time of Sunday’s race has been brought forward by 30 minutes to 11.00am AEDT with rain and storms predicted to descend on Mt Panorama.
It says very little about Cameron Smith and much more about the blood sport that is rugby league that his wife Barb has somehow become the most controversial owner of a ring since Gollum.
Barb Smith didn’t have to kill anyone to get her band of gold. The token of appreciation was presented by the NRL last season to acknowledge her role in her husband’s achievement of playing 400 NRL matches. The ring came from the bottom of the game’s heart, not the bottom of a river.
But such is the NRL’s constant craving for confrontation, conspiracy and controversy Barb’s ring has been used to symbolise Smith’s alleged entitlement and cast as an affront to ordinary rugby league folk.
Because, you know, if then-NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg hadn’t bought the ring, cash-strapped country leagues would have been lifted from the doldrums, ticket prices would tumble, new stadiums would magically appear in the suburbs and Orphan Timmy would have that Panthers jersey he’s always dreamed of.
Never mind that the $15,000 price tag wouldn’t cover the bar tab at some of the NRL events frequented by the same journalists who begrudge a gift that was unusual, though no more so than the unprecedented achievement it commemorated.
Yet, inevitably, the Curse of Barb’s Ring has had another airing this week. This time the ring was the mystical item that almost caused the friendship of Craig Bellamy and former teammate Ricky Stuart — and even the close relationship between Bellamy and Smith — to dissolve.
I will spare you the details.
All you need to know is that in the lead-up to what could be Smith’s final game — and almost certainly his last game at Lang Park — the prattle is about almost anything other than Smith’s vast achievements on the park.
You might argue that over the course of 56 games for Australia, 42 for Queensland and 428 for the Storm there is not much left to say about Smith’s career and the famously circumspect hooker has never been particularly forthcoming about his own achievements.
As an interview subject Smith can be generous and expansive about the game but equally dry and even evasive about his own role. I suspect we will find out far more about him when he releases the autobiography being written in collaboration with The Sydney Morning Herald’s accomplished sportswriter Andrew Webster.
Of course, Smith has not announced his retirement plans. The singular Melbourne skipper was always more likely to leave the Storm’s game plan in the Raiders’ sheds before Saturday night’s game than signal his intentions before he was good and ready.
But rather than leaving his possible replacements Brandon Smith and Harry Grant in limbo, the most regrettable consequence of Smith’s refusal to call it quits — if that is what he intends to do — is how this has inflamed those elements of the media determined to hold him in contempt.
Smith’s media treatment
If rugby league is an unruly beast, its reportage can be like bare-knuckle boxing. Never more so when someone refuses to march to the constantly throbbing beat of the media drum.
Some choose to play the media game, courting favourite journalists and outlets and — inevitably — get burnt by those they spurn.
Some shun all approaches and are persecuted for “failing to engage with the fans” — code for “why won’t you tell me your most intimate secrets just because I wrote you were a cheating bum last week?”
Others think they are treading a dignified line between cooperation and conspiracy, only to find their agent or even coach has been trading on their name to curry media favours.
Inevitably all these strange bedfellows satisfy the public’s appetite for rumour, conspiracy and endless fighting and feuding, although you wonder how well-informed it leaves them.
Where Smith stands in this sometimes self-interested, sometimes self-destructive world is hard to know.
But his vilification for everything from arguing with a referee while oblivious to the plight of the paralysed Alex McKinnon to the supposed mindlock he puts on referees suggests he either refuses to play the media game or is very bad at it.
Inevitably, the coverage of Smith’s career has pandered to the innate prejudice of those fans whose dim perspective of the Storm great is amplified by their team’s inability to tame him.
Consequently, the player of immense talent and almost preternatural resilience has sometimes been lost amid cliched taunts and false accusations.
Respected rugby league analyst Peter Sterling was just one to fall for this narrative when he declared Smith’s place as the best number nine in the NRL had been usurped by Josh Hodgson after a poor early-season game against the Raiders.
A week later Smith put on yet another clinic and Sterling was seen ordering a large helping of humble pie in the Network Nine canteen.
Smith enters Saturday night’s game with a noose around his neck. An accumulation of minor offences means he will miss the grand final should he so much as rupture a Raiders’ cuticle.
It would be a great shame if Smith spent what was supposed to be his final triumphant game on the sidelines; although it would add another chapter to that great NRL fairytale, the Curse of Barb’s Ring.
Offsiders host Kelli Underwood and the panel will analyse all the big sports issues and events this Sunday at 10:00am on ABC TV.
Whether or not he knew what he was doing, the Queensland crowd gave him a standing ovation as he completed an impromptu and unofficial half-lap of honour.
After dodging a quick couple of questions from broadcasters about his future, the team celebrated with the Storm fans in Brisbane, before coach Craig Bellamy apparently stitched Smith up.
He pulled the 37-year-old aside and told him to get on the shoulders of Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane. The rest of the team formed a guard of honour and a smiling Smith was showered with enough electrolytes to power a small army.
Bellamy said he just thought it would be “a nice photo” and a nice gesture to the Queenslanders who have supported him for almost two decades.
Smith said he didn’t know, albeit giving the sense of a man who was tired enough of being asked the question that he might just call it quits in there and then.
But it’s not by the talk or the moments of grandeur that Smith will be remembered; rather by the on-field brilliance, individually and as a team, be that with Melbourne, Queensland or Australia.
On Friday night, the Storm’s hot start meant Smith didn’t have to play the mastermind. He didn’t have to orchestrate or play the role of the wizard making defences go where he wants them to go and allowing his teammates to capitalise.
And yet he still managed to offer up one more (last?) trademark moment for the Lang Park massive.
When Raiders winger Nick Cotric broke down the right flank in the 66th minute, Smith was tracking back, but looked like a St Bernard chasing a greyhound.
When Cotric chipped over the top, Josh Addo-Carr stormed past his skipper and was set to be the hero, until a nasty bounce popped over the more traditionally athletic chasers and into the hands of Cotric with the line at his mercy.
The game was already in the Storm’s hands, but still Smith wouldn’t let Cotric out of his grasp, driving his deceptively powerful frame in the opposite direction of the “strong bugger” who was three years old when Smith made his NRL debut.
Cotric must have thought he could overpower the veteran, because he looked off a wide-open teammate for a simple offload and only realised too late that he was stuck in Smith’s tractor beam, knocking on as he tried to make amends.
It was fitting that he ended the game with a huge pad on his lower back, a classic old man injury, with some extra protection on his left shoulder.
Next Sunday will mark Smith’s 430th NRL game since making his debut in 2002 and he’s played all bar a couple in the teeth of the defence and as the pivot point in attack.
After 18 seasons, the bumps and bruises should turn into cracks and contusions, but as long-time teammate Cooper Cronk said on the Fox Sports coverage, he’s too smart to even get injured because he never gets himself into the wrong positions.
It now seems almost certain that next week’s grand final will be his last NRL game and while a third official premiership would be a spectacular way for one of the game’s greats to go out, it would be foolish to suggest he or the club needs it.
Smith will have played in eight grand finals since 2006. He would say he’s won four (the record books say two) but as Smith said, getting there is hard enough.
“Some people judge success as winning a grand final, [but] I’m just really proud of the way this footy side seems to front up every year,” he said after Friday’s win.
Next Sunday’s game against Penrith or South Sydney will be their fourth decider in the past five seasons (an achievement no other team has even come close to in recent years) and their fifth in nine years, which may be even more outlandish considering the turnover in rugby league teams.
Especially since this dynasty was supposed to end after the salary cap scandal tore the team apart in 2010.
Since then, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and any number of other players have walked through the Storm system.
Few were stars when they arrived, but Melbourne’s machine helped them become just that, either in house (like Ryan Papenhuyzen or Jahrome Hughes) or elsewhere (players like James Maloney or Wallabies star Marika Koroibete).
Through it all, Smith and Bellamy have been the Sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Reliable and bright.
So of course it was Bellamy who pushed the unassuming Smith onto his teammates’ shoulders and into the spotlight.
Regardless of Smith’s plans, it ensures it will be impossibly awkward if Smith does want to play on next year.
While this year had a few distractions and Smith was clearly perturbed by the constant speculation, another year (in Melbourne at least) risks becoming a farcical sideshow, and he deserves better than that.
The Melbourne Storm have reached their fourth grand final in the past five years, riding a powerful first-half performance to a 30-10 win over Canberra.
But perhaps the biggest moment of the night came after game was already decided, with Cameron Smith chaired from the field in an apparent farewell to the fans at Lang Park.
He got a standing ovation and waved to the crowd as he left the field in the 75th minute before being hoisted onto the shoulders of Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane and carried through a guard of honour as they left the field.
Speculation has been rife as to whether the 37-year-old will go around again in 2021 and the post-match theatrics were the best indication that this season may be his last.
After the game he said he did not know if it was the last game he would play at Lang Park, and said Craig Bellamy was the architect of the moment.
“I just thought it’d be a good idea in case it is [Smith’s last game at Lang Park],” Bellamy said.
If it was to be Smith’s farewell to Queensland, it was a champagne effort from him and his team.
Before about a quarter of the 37,112-strong crowd had found their seats at Lang Park, the Storm had already scored three tries.
Things normalised after that, but the Storm maintained the rage to nab the win in their sixth-straight preliminary final and move on to face either Penrith or South Sydney in next Sunday’s decider.
A ticketing glitch had left thousands of fans stranded outside the ground for the first 10 minutes in Brisbane, and they would have been stunned once they got into the ground to see Melbourne already leading 16-0.
In a game tipped to be a complete toss-up, the Storm were untouchable from the jump, breaking down the left wing before Jahrome Hughes sent hard-running prop Jesse Bromwich over from close range.
The second try came from considerably further away, with a left-side shift sending Josh Addo-Carr 50 metres down the wing before popping a ball back to fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen to finish off the final 20 metres.
It became clear with the completion of the hat-trick — when a malfunctioning last-tackle play gave way to a piece of Suliasi Vunivalu brilliance, faking a grubber and stepping inside to touch down — that it was going to be Melbourne’s night.
When Raiders winger Nick Cotric had an air-swing while trying to bat a ball dead and Justin Olam flew in like Superman to score in the 24th minute, the Storm were going at a point a minute.
Once the Raiders finally got the ball in hand they held onto it for most of the final 15 minutes of the half, and even punched some holes, crossing for a try when Cotric flew highest for a George Williams bomb.
Coach Ricky Stuart clearly got his troops ready for a battle in the second half, with Dale Finucane forced 10 metres backwards and into the in-goal by a pack of Raiders on the first hit-up off the kick-off.
But a Hudson Young knock-on off the ensuing set ended that raid and for the next 20 minutes the teams engaged in the sort of tussle we had expected to see from the opening whistle.
Eventually Vunivalu batted back a Hughes bomb for hard-working forward Dale Finucane to dot down and put the game beyond doubt, with only a late Cotric try helping Canberra into double digits.
Craig Bellamy has acknowledged he may be fined after giving the one-finger salute to skipper Cameron Smith during the Melbourne Storm’s win over the Tigers.
Craig Bellamy scored 46 tries for the Raiders, and Smith scored his 47th on Saturday
Bellamy took 148 games to score 46, while Smith only passed that career tally in his 427th game
Bellamy shrugged off any fine that may be coming his way from the NRL
With just a few minutes left to play in the 50-22 victory on Saturday night, Smith toed the ball through from dummy half after some ruck interference about a metre from the tryline, winning the race to ground the ball.
The second the bunker flashed the green light, Smith and his Storm teammates erupted in celebration, pointing and laughing at the coach’s box.
The Storm skipper had just scored his 47th career try, surpassing coach Bellamy’s tally from his playing days with Canberra in the ’80s and ’90s.
As his charges had a laugh at his expense, Bellamy was caught on camera flipping them off, delivering another pointed gesture just for his skipper as Smith carried on before the conversion.
Bellamy was asked after the game if he thought he had a fine coming and shrugged it off, saying it was obviously a joke and if the league decides to fine him, so be it.
“I have to apologise for my reaction when they all started looking up at the box and laughing at me,” he said.
“I just sort of stuck it up. I was surprised the camera caught me actually.
“The only thing I can feel OK about is it took him  games to get there and I got mine in about 140 or 150.”
He’s right. Bellamy’s 46 tries in 148 games as a utility with the Raiders from 1982 to 1992 came at a clip of one every 3.2 games, while Smith’s came at a relatively glacial rate of a try every 9.1 games.
Cameron Smith is one of the greatest players rugby league has seen and has done everything for the Melbourne Storm.
He’s won premierships for the club, helped lead them through the salary cap scandal and then the rebuild, helped secure their place in the NRL and in the Victorian sporting landscape, bled for the club and played more than 400 games for them over almost two decades.
His contribution to the Melbourne Storm and the game is immeasurable and he’s earned the right to end his career on his terms.
But it would be understandable if the Storm were starting to get a bit impatient for him to make a call on his future.
Melbourne will never forget what Smith has done for the club, but he’s 37 years old and closer to the end than the start, which would be fine if there weren’t two world-class young players waiting in the wings.
The Storm have hookers Brandon Smith and Harry Grant on contract going forward, but both reportedly have get-out clauses if Cameron plays on.
Brandon can play anywhere on the field but he wants to be a starting dummy half going forward, as does Grant, currently playing out a one-year loan with Wests Tigers, so keeping both players is unlikely, regardless of what happens with the skipper.
I don’t know how you choose between the two of them, but losing both would be hard to take.
Both of those players will want to carve their own path and get out from the shadow of a future Immortal, because whoever’s in that Melbourne number nine is always going to be compared to Smith and that’s going to have a lot of pressure on them.
Cam Smith loves the club and knows if he stays they might lose those two quality players. I think he’ll take into account what’s best for the Storm in making his decision, which he’s reportedly been asked to finalise this week.
Smith has a chance to improve his legacy
It’s bizarre that it’s come to this. And it would be even more bizarre to see him in another jersey, but with the way he’s played this year, who wouldn’t want him?
Smith and his family are from Brisbane, so if he was to play on, a Queensland club seems the most likely destination. And they could really use him in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast.
The Titans have put together a monster forward pack for next year, with David Fifita moving down the M1 and fellow Stormer Tino Fa’asuamaleaui heading north to join the likes of Moeaki Fotuaika, Jai Arrow, Jarrod Wallace and Kevin Proctor.
A legend like Smith could help that team take the next step into the top eight and show the club what it takes to be a special team that makes the finals regularly.
The writing’s on the wall for coach Anthony Seibold and for a team lacking leadership, Smith could be the man to get them back on the front foot.
He’d walk straight in the door with the “C” next to his name and show some of those young guys who’ve only known struggles what it takes to win games, not just on the field but off the field as well.
With the Broncos’ captaincy a major question mark, he would be able to show them what it takes to be a leader.
He’s definitely the man for the job, and the club’s got to get him there. It’s just a matter of how much money they can spare and how willing Smith is to continue to play on for another year or two, especially with a team that might not be there at the pointy end of the season.
Maybe he could even bring Craig Bellamy with him or, hell, why not captain-coach? If anyone can do it, it’s the first man to play 400 games.
Whether it’s bringing the Broncos back from the brink or turning the Titans into a regular semi-finals fixture, moving to another team could actually help Smith add another chapter to his legacy.
Luke Lewis was speaking to ABC News Digital’s Jon Healy
If, as reported, Cameron Smith has decided to leave Melbourne Storm for his native Queensland at the end of this season, one of the most remarkable eras in Australian sport is about to end.
It will be known as the time of the Big Three — even if it is a label Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk despise because it fails to acknowledge the vast contributions of their teammates.
What about, they will ask you, the indefatigable Ryan Hoffman with whom they shared digs in inner-city Richmond as prodigiously talented teenagers plucked from the Queensland heartland?
Or how about Greg Inglis whose brilliance for a time outshone them all before he became the human sacrifice banished to help clear the stench of the Storm’s salary cap shame?
But, as much as they fought it, sheer relentless achievement has justified a title that celebrates three superstars who expanded the once narrow confines in which the Storm existed.
Smith, Slater and Cronk came to a city where the Storm had won a premiership in 1999 yet barely created a ripple on the AFL’s pond.
Molly Meldrum turned up for the trophy presentation outside Carlton’s Princes Park alongside a few hundred faithful.
Even as skipper Glenn Lazarus and coach Chris Anderson took the stage, to most Melburnians, the rock guru was easily the most recognisable star.
In this regard, perhaps the Big Three’s greatest achievement was to put names to the Storm’s face; to humanise a club defined by an excellence that eventually defied the customary comparisons with the all-conquering AFL.
By the time the Big Three (or the remaining members) had taken the Storm to eight grand finals and four premierships — two expunged from the official records — the club was part of the Melbourne sporting fabric, and the three superstars universally acknowledged and admired.
Through their relentless and perpetual success, a once-reflexive resistance to “rugby” — the “league” part was optional — has been replaced with a warm parochial pride. This was only enhanced by the increasingly bitter resentment of those heartland clubs who came to view Storm as an illegitimate usurper.
Even the salary cap scandal that prompted spectators at Brookvale and Shark Park to wave $50 bills in the faces of the Storm stars galvanised support in Melbourne. Even more so when the club continued to prosper despite its comparatively punitive sanctions.
Smith, the dead-eyed, dry-as-dust club spokesman, was in many ways the perfect sponge for the slings and arrows aimed at the Storm. Yet through the eyes of his teammates, his off-field role in the team’s long-term success can be hard to fathom.
The stories most often told by teammates are of the laidback, even woolly-headed character who takes days to respond to messages and is so tardy he missed the team bus to the airport for a grand final and had to hail down a ride.
This image is fiercely contradicted by the relentlessly driven character we see leading his team through a set of six with the kind of intuition, timing, adroitness and controlled aggression you might expect from a special operations group storming a building to free a hostage.
Slater was the Storm’s imagination. The coltish full-back took a disciplined highly drilled team into places even Slater hadn’t thought of going.
Cronk became its restless mind; questioning, demanding and often underrated. The third brother who was left behind in Queensland when Smith and Slater joined the main squad, and who somehow seemed more driven by that early abandonment.
Smith was the beating heart; the future NRL Immortal in a mechanics body.
In this regard, there is an obvious irony to the elevation of the Big Three — they left the game’s proudest and most provincial heartland state to complete their rugby league education in a place where NRL news appeared in newspapers just before the greyhound results.
Now Smith can return two decades later as a prized signing to be waved before the angry and disillusioned Broncos faithful; the man who could restore the club’s culture in the image of the Storm and retire as the Broncos coach apparent.
Even those Brisbane fans still damaged and disillusioned by the failed return of the last messiah, Wayne Bennett — and the emotional wrench that caused — will struggle to resist the romanticism of Smith’s triumphant homecoming.
Names change at the Storm but results keep coming
Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Smith’s departure will bring both a period of reflection about the club’s incredible era and also some trepidation in the media and marketing departments.
Can the Storm maintain its toehold in the sporting mainstream? Does the last of the Big Three pack all that over-achievement in his suitcase and take it to Brisbane?
Quietly, however, some club insiders shrug and tell you to check the ladder. Slater and Cronk are now long gone, Smith is going but the results keep coming.
New stars have been identified or, as often, salvaged from the scrapheap. Already, to Melburnians, Ryan Papenhuyzen is more than just a good scrabble hand and Brandon Smith and Harry Grant will compete for Smith’s role.
And for all Slater’s sheer brilliance, Cronk’s football intelligence and Smith’s leadership, perhaps there was only ever a Big One.
Celebrate Smith’s enormous contribution.
But if you fear for the Storm’s future, save your tears while they still have Craig Bellamy.
It’s unusual for the Melbourne Storm to be without Cameron Smith — he’s played 400-plus games and I don’t think he’s missed too many — and it’s a huge blow.
To have someone of the calibre of Cameron Smith out of the side [with a shoulder injury] — you’re definitely going to feel it.
But in saying that, the Storm’s system is so strong that when one of their stars is injured, the people who come in always step up.
They’ve got a great hooker coming in Brandon Smith, who will fill the hole.
He’s a quality football player, a strong runner, and a really good defender. They’ll lose a little bit with Cameron Smith going out, but they’ll also gain in different ways with Brandon Smith coming in.
I think it’s a little bit of uncharted waters for the Storm, but Craig Bellamy will get them humming and they’ll be fine.
Their attack may be jeopardised a little bit but they’ll get used to it pretty quickly.
One thing about Cameron Smith is, he’s pretty much like a coach, so he’ll be out there during the week helping Bellamy on the training track.
I’m also excited to see how the Storm do perform without him. Cameron Smith is getting a bit older now, but he’s still playing some of the best footy of his career.
He might retire at the end of the year, he might continue to play on, or he might go to another club — there’s been a lot of speculation about him going to Brisbane — but right now, we just don’t know.
What we do know is that Cameron Smith has always been the man for Melbourne and he has always been the leader for that side.
He knows how to come up with big plays at the right time — under all sorts of pressure — week in, week out for the last 400-plus games.
You can’t replace that. Cameron Munster is an off-the-cuff instinctive footballer and he’s a superstar in his own right but I do think he relies on Cameron Smith a little bit when it comes to keeping a cool head.
It definitely gives an opportunity for him to step up and lead now.
I think Brandon Smith will be a good leader as well, because he has come up under the guidance of Cameron Smith for a long time.
They’re going to miss him big time, but it does give other guys an opportunity to put into practice what Cameron Smith has taught them over the years.
Indigenous Round is important to NRL
When I was playing, to see how much the NRL’s Indigenous Round actually means to the Indigenous Australian players is pretty special.
What is happening at the moment is that everyone’s starting to ask real questions, people are starting to get involved a lot more, even in the community when it comes to helping out [Indigenous events and groups], which I think is amazing.
The other thing I really loved about this season’s Indigenous Round was the way the players performed and how passionate they were about it.
But they had people like Cody Walker — and all the Rabbitohs’ tries came from Walker and the Indigenous players — and they were doing it with a smile on their face.
The leadership shown by Walker in the Rabbitohs number six jersey really stood out, I thought that was an amazing game from the New South Wales State of Origin representative.
The way the Indigenous players represented their Aboriginal families and culture was beautiful to watch.
I liked that there were players involved in designing the Indigenous Round jerseys and telling their stories.
Manly’s Joel Thompson told some great stories and showed leadership in telling people that if they just ask questions they will get on board and start to understand the backgrounds of where people have come from.
I really feel we bridged a big gap on the weekend.
There are people around who govern this and they were still happy with it all but I do believe we need to keep that situation under control.
It’s more important for us to keep our supporters in a safe environment, while at the same time we want to keep the game going. But the more that sort of thing happens, the more chance there is of making things a little bit worse.
I do believe we need to be taking the right precautions to keep our game running but also making sure we keep the fans happy.
It would be crazy for us as a league not to take precautions, as there are so many possible repercussions if this does go wrong.
We’ve seen what has happened down in Melbourne, which is so sad. We could be right back to square one and I don’t think we can afford that as a game.
But we’re really enjoying our football at the moment — indeed football, I think, has never been better.
Luke Lewis was talking to ABC News’s Andrew McGarry