Australia legend Cameron Smith hailed as he calls time on stellar career

AMID all the deserved tributes paid to Cameron Smith in Australia following his retirement yesterday, it is easy to forget how much of an impact the legendary hooker had here, too.

Immortal: Melbourne Storm and NRL legends Cameron Smith (left) and Billy Slater pose for a photo with their statues outside AAMI Park. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Admittedly, plenty of players ended up on the losing side against the Melbourne Storm great, whether in World Club Challenges or in Tests where one of the cleverest players of this – or any – generation helped the Kangaroos continually floor England.

However, once the pain of defeat ebbed away, a deep respect and admiration for the brilliant 37-year-old always remained.

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It is no surprise; Smith, who had been Storm’s captain since 2006 and helped them win the title again in his final match last October, is one of the sport’s most decorated players.

He was part of a record 11 State of Origin series victories for Queensland and won two World Cups and three Four Nations crowns during his 56 Tests.

The former Australia captain – who announced his retirement on the eve of the new season after months of speculation he might play on with Gold Coast Titans or Brisbane Broncos – twice won the Golden Boot and, such was his durability, he only missed 15 matches throughout his career.

But, in terms of that aforementioned impact here, during the last decade or so, there is a long list of Storm players who came to Super League and spoke so highly about Smith’s influence in that renowned Melbourne culture.

At Hull KR now is Albert Vete but before him came Clint Newton, Maurice Blair and Blake Green. Castleford Tigers have Cheyse Blair as well as Junior Moors, Jake Webster and Benny Roberts previously.

Big influence: Hull FC's Mahe Fonua, left, played with Cameron Smith at Melbourne Storm and has paid tribute to the star after he announced his retirement. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

There is, of course, a certain Greg Inglis running out for Warrington Wolves this term alongside Gareth Widdop while Mahe Fonua followed the same path as Sika Manu in joining Hull FC after picking up so many positive traits from the Dally M Medal winner.

Winger Fonua, 28, told The Yorkshire Post: “When I woke up to the news this morning I was a bit shocked. I thought he might just go again as he still made the game look so effortless.

“But obviously he knows his body best and he has accomplished so much in the game.

“He’ll definitely go down as a future Immortal. Cameron Smith is just one of the most calm, cool and collected people you could ever meet, off and on the field.

All-time great: Australia's Cameron Smith won twop W"orld Cups with Australia. Picture: SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

“In the most high pressure situations in games, he was able to keep himself so level and still steer the team in the direction it needed to be to get that win or – if we were going to lose – fight all the way until the final siren.

“He’s very approachable; he always looked out for the young lads growing up. He had an aura about him when I came through but he didn’t come across as an arrogant person.

“He’s a bit of a joker, too. He loves a laugh and he just knew the perfect balance of knowing when to be serious and when to be able to mingle with the boys.”

Fonua played with Smith for four years and helped beat Leeds in the 2013 World Club Challenge.

Asked what his best recollection of Smith is, he said: “It has nothing really to do with footy.

“We’d played a game one night in Wollongong against St George and lost. Me and Junior Moors, actually, walked out to a petrol station to get some snacks afterwards and got back to the hotel.

“Smithy was just in there winding down having a few beers. For some reason, I just distinctly remember that moment – me and Junior just sitting down and having a chat with him while he was having a few quiet ones.

“And that was it. It’s not significant to anyone. It was only us three but it was great to be able to sit and just chill with him, see a relaxed Cameron Smith and how I’d imagine he is at home.

“I was only young at the time. I debuted when I was 19 and left for Hull when I was 23 so Cameron Smith was part of all my footy memories at Storm. Every single one. He was great.”

Warrington hooker Daryl Clark was still just 21, playing for Castleford and the newly-annointed Man of Steel when he made only his second England appearance against Australia in the 2014 Four Nations. He recalled: “It was in Melbourne and I swapped shirts with Cam Smith afterwards.

“I didn’t play nine. Hodgy (Josh Hodgson) had that. But I got to him before – and I swapped him for a 14! He was pretty cool. He probably hasn’t got mine now but mine’s framed at home and staying with me for a while.

“You have to say he’s the best to ever do it at nine. It’s unheard of what’s he done so consistently but also as a general player – you’d say he’s one of the best ever.

“I saw an animated photo of him the other day of him with all his shirts and trophies around him. That makes you realise.”

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