Smith has no peer in NRL record stakes

Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith will become the first player to reach 400 NRL games on Saturday, among his many records.

CAMERON SMITH of the Storm charges forward during the NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Melbourne Storm at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand.
CAMERON SMITH of the Storm charges forward during the NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Melbourne Storm at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. Picture: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

The most extraordinary thing about Cameron Smith playing 400 NRL games is that he's so ordinary.

Smith will reach the magical milestone when he leads his Melbourne Storm out against Cronulla at AAMI Park on Saturday night.

While four AFL players have reached 400 games, led by ex-North Melbourne great Brent Harvey (432), Smith is streaks ahead in the NRL stakes.

Ahead of this round, his former teammate Cooper Cronk has tallied the next most with 361 but has already declared his intention to retire at season's end.

Of others still playing, Sharks captain and bitter rival Paul Gallen, who will miss the game with a glute injury, is seventh on 339 but also plans to retire.

South Sydney's John Sutton is equal 15th with 324 games but is 34 years old.

The NRL record of Smith, who has already signed on for next season and contemplating playing beyond that, may never be broken.

And not to be forgotten, he's also played three World Club Challenge games, four All Stars games, 42 State of Origins for Queensland and 56 games representing Australia, pushing his game count beyond 500.

Smith's longevity and durability over 18 seasons - only missing 11 games through injury - can be attributed as much to his game smarts as his athletic ability.

He was cruelly dubbed "a footballer in an accountant's body" by former teammate Matt Geyer.

But that's the reality.

A father of three, he doesn't have bulging muscles, super strength or electric speed and was no school-boy prodigy.

But he has no peer when it comes to game management - be it his own team, the opposition or the referee. While he doesn't shirk any work - regularly topping the tackle count - his brains trumps brawn.

Rugby league conditioning guru Alex Corvo, now at the Warriors but at the Storm for 11 of Smith's seasons, says the former Test hooker's smarts are key to his success.

"He's probably the smartest footballer that's played the game," said Corvo.

"Because he's so capable in the skill area and in the way he analyses and reads the game it allows him to cope better physically.

"He's very good at conserving energy at the right times.

"He puts himself in the right position to make sure that he has the upper hand in most collisions so he's one of the best defenders and wrestlers in the game."

Craig Bellamy took over as Melbourne coach in 2003, a year after Smith made his debut.

He made Smith the starting hooker from round one of that season and said he'd never contemplated dropping him since.

And he only recalled one instance when Smith was the target of an infamous Bellamy "chat".

"I had a little chat to him once in the pre-season - I was pretty honest with him as I didn't think he pushed himself enough at training," Bellamy said.

"He was always a cool customer and never really looked uncomfortable and I think in pre-season training you need to be uncomfortable at times.

"That was about 18 years ago - and we haven't had that chat since."

Bellamy said the way Smith's body was holding up, the only limit on his longevity in the game was in his mind.

"I am sure the last few months he has probably had his eye on the 400 and looked forward to that," Bellamy said.

"Whether there is any motivation dip when he plays 400, I don't know.

"The way he is playing at the moment, I think he will play along for as long as he wants."

CAMERON SMITH BY THE NUMBERS

Age: 36

Major records:

Most NRL appearances (399)

Most NRL points (2500 - 43 tries, 1162 goals, 4 field goals)

Most NRL goals (1162)

Most wins in an NRL career (285)

Most State of Origin appearances (42)

Most State of Origin wins (26)


AAP