How Smith the Kingswood kid became a legend

He started with a sausage roll and finished with a statue.

When Cameron Smith turned up for his first grade debut for Brisbane Norths way back in 2001 his captain Kevin Carmichael recalls seeing him nonchalantly eating a sausage roll and washing it down with coke.

Carmichael felt the need to remind Smith to start thinking about his pre-match diet to which Smith replied "no worries, all good mate.''

"Even back then he was the most relaxed footballer you would see,'' said Carmichael, spotting a trait which some believe was the secret to the incredible staying power which became his greatest trademark.

 

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And when all was said and done the story of Smith the footballer was similar to that of his beloved first car.

Smith's treasured blue 1971 Holden Kingswood is 12 years older than he is, has not got a solitary scratch on it and, just like its owner, still runs just fine.

For Smith the footballer, that was the problem. It's just hard to switch off the engine when you know you can still purr around the block which is why he waited until five minutes to midnight before locking the garage for good.

In the same way Smith has never been able to part with his first car he struggled to cut the cord with league.

 

 

When Smith confirmed the news he was leaving rugby league, a story which commanded similar news space in recent months to Donald Trump leaving the White House, he did so without a scratch on his stubbled face, a kink in his walk, a crook knee or a pain in his shoulder.

He was like the bank teller who went to war and came back looking ready to sit down over coffee and discuss how you could manage your latest loan.

We could go on forever about the "mosts'' in his record but you almost need to turn his portfolio upside down to recognise the full lustre of it.

 

 

 

 

Like the fact he missed just seven club games through injury in two decades. Astonishing.

Unless you can find some 19-year-old kid who can play for two decades barely missing a game you can back his record of 430 clubs games to stand forever.

There was always something enigmatic about Smith and it came from the fact his pure and endless love for the game was never matched for a zest for the profile and scrutiny that went with it.

 

Cameron Munster and Smith celebrate last year’s grand final victory, his third.
Cameron Munster and Smith celebrate last year’s grand final victory, his third.

 

"We have always wanted to live a simple life,'' said the former Logan City label-printer who became a legend.

Much like Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar he was a superstar we knew extra well and hardly at all because of the sense he was keeping his inner thoughts closely guarded from public view.

Control was the key force of his career - of game plans, his own team, his own emotions and published thoughts and, many would say, of referees and he had remarkable ability to look like he was cruising in third gear while rubber was burning all around him.

What you think of Smith normally depends on who you cheer for. Melbourne Storm fans see him as the magnificent maestro of their era for the ages and worship the ground he walks on.

Sydneysiders call him manipulative and self-serving and would curse the way he would get what he wanted from referees even though he maintains they collectively ignored him late in his career.

 

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Queensland State of Origin fans have deep-seated admiration and endless appreciation for the role he played when the Maroons won 11 out of 12 series.

Would you call it love? Not quite.

He never plucked Queensland's fans hearts of their chests in a Thurston-Lewis-Langer sort of way and was never given the nickname treatment of an Alfie, Hodgo or Pearl.

"Smithy'' would have been an easy fit but it never felt quite right.

 

His greatness shaped the Australian game at all levels yet is frustratingly hard to define for there was no slashing signature play like a Brad Fittler sidestep, Wally Lewis cut-out pass, Greg Inglis fend or Billy Slater swerve.

But his genius was more unnerving that all of these because, as Ben Ikin said, he could pick you apart, stitch by stitch, and you were never exactly sure how he was doing it.

Fans who loved or loathed him often struggled to slap down detailed reasons why they felt that way because his mastery of the game, much like the man in the ceiling controlling the puppets, was so silken and subtle.

 

When all of the cheers and jeers and froth and bubble are swept away it can be said there may have never been a sportsman born in Australia who got more out of himself. The astounding thing is he could have given even more.

When Smith sat down with Wayne Bennett as a 17-year-old hunting a contract offer from the Broncos the master coach asked him what was his weakest point.

"I'm not very fast Wayne unfortunately … but I am trying to make up for it by becoming the quickest thinker around,'' he said.

There it is folks. The simply sentence that explains the greatest rugby league career of all time.

 

 

Originally published as How Smith the Kingswood kid became a legend



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