Smith stuns Storm with contract demand
Cameron Smith has stunned the Melbourne Storm by outlining his plan to secure a two-year contract in a move that would see the Queensland champion remain in the NRL until 2020.
The Courier-Mail can reveal Smith is keen to put retirement firmly on the backburner, requesting a longer-term deal as the Storm hooker eyes an NRL career beyond his 37th birthday.
Mystery has surrounded Smith's future at the Storm. Melbourne were initially planning for Smith to retire at the end of next year, although a contract stalemate has broken out in recent months, leaving the Storm's most important player without a formal deal for 2019.
A fortnight ago, Melbourne announced a 27-man squad for next season without their off-contract captain, Smith, on their roster.
Now the contract saga has taken a dramatic twist, with the Storm receiving information Smith wants more than a 12-month deal, confident his body can withstand the rigours of another two years in the NRL.
The 35-year-old Smith is the most-capped player in NRL history with 384 matches and could surge past the 400-game milestone by compiling a staggering 19 seasons of NRL service in 2020.
There is speculation the protracted negotiations could see Smith quit the NRL immediately, but Storm football operations chief Frank Ponissi dismissed fears their No.1 player could follow Billy Slater into retirement.
"Cameron has been given time off until January and we are in no rush. I have no doubt his new deal will get done in time," Ponissi said.
"There's no real reason for the hold up. We're still in negotiations and sometimes contract talks take time, but it's not a sign that Cam won't be here.
"I would be very, very surprised if Cameron doesn't play on.
"Cameron is enjoying his first long break in a long time with no World Cup and representative commitments at the end of the season.
"This is the first real off-season that he's ever had, so we will let him enjoy the off-season and he will come back in the first week in January."
Melbourne's exit strategy for Smith was never expected to go beyond the 2019 season.
But Smith's shock decision this year to retire from representative football has reduced his demands and allowed him to focus his energies on the Storm.
Should the Storm agree to a two-year extension, it is understood the club would explore ways to ease the strain on Smith, including resting his body during matches.
Ponissi lauded Smith's longevity, saying the skipper's decision to walk away from Queensland and Australia duties could prolong his club career.
"It's simply incredible what Cam has achieved," Ponissi said.
"It was a big decision for him not to play Origin this year, he really enjoyed playing for Queensland and Australia - it was a massive part of his life.
"But it's kept him going physically and mentally.
"Not having the intensity and the commitment of Origin mid-season has helped energise him and that could help prolong his career with us."
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