• Mon. Oct 24th, 2022

For almost five months of fuss, fanfare, furphies and fables, Cameron Smith’s retirement announcement came together in roughly an hour, with none the wiser until he asked Craig Bellamy to step into his own office.

Mar 10, 2021

For almost five months of fuss, fanfare, furphies and fables, Cameron Smith’s retirement announcement came together in roughly an hour.
Twenty years after flying into Melbourne as a 17-year-old and getting a treasured fan photo with Brett Kimmorley, Smith flew south once more on Wednesday morning.
He stopped by the family home to pick up a suit that still fitted him, then pulled into Craig Bellamy’s office at AAMI Park, calling chairman Matt Tripp and football manager Frank Ponissi in as well.
A few hours earlier Bellamy had been on SEN Radio joking about the “icy response” he copped when retirement had been raised with Smith during their 2020 campaign.
The coach was still none the wiser just that morning, but like most had his suspicions.
It was nothing but warm and fuzzies when Smith finally brought the curtain down on his storied career, though even at midday he still held reservations about telling the wider rugby league world.
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He and great mate Billy Slater had been cast in bronze out front that didn’t exactly nail the facial features, and Smith didn’t want to rain on Slater’s statue.
As good a day as any to retire was Slater’s response.
Within 10 minutes of talking to Melbourne’s top brass came his teammates.
Smith’s planned presentation of Jesse Bromwich’s jersey for his first game as captain putting him front and centre of Storm players and staff.
“Obviously there have been a lot of questions about my career and future, but I want you guys to hear it first,” Smith began.
Smith’s address didn’t last long. The social media post that went out soon after fit snuggly into Twitter’s 280-character limit.
“It was all very Smithy,” Ponissi told NRL.com.
“We had no idea he was going to retire. We found out about 10 minutes before everyone else when he got Craig, myself and Matt Tripp into Craig’s office and said he wanted to see us.
“One thing he said though was he always going to be making that retirement announcement in Melbourne.
“It was never going to be from Queensland or somewhere else, today ended up being the perfect opportunity with the statues being unveiled.”
For his part, Smith was well aware the whole rugby league world has been watching, waiting, filling up his voice mail for almost five months.
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“I’ve been wrestling with the decision for quite some time and that’s why it’s taken so long,” he said.
“I spoke to a handful of people who are quite close to me throughout last year while the season was still on.
” I still felt good within myself physically and mentally. I still thought my form was good enough to play in the NRL but after spending quality time with my family in Queensland I knew it was the right time to finish.”
The finish comes twenty years after that happy snap with Kimmorley and the initial $10,000 contract that proved the best business Melbourne ever did.
At the same time as Smith, Wayne Bennett fronted the cameras ahead of South Sydney’s trip to take on the Storm.
It was all very Smithy. We had no idea he was going to retire.
Storm football manager Frank Ponissi
“Has he retired now?” Bennett had been commanding the Rabbitohs captain’s run when the news broke.
His old Broncos outfit had gone public with their play for a Smith swansong as recently as three weeks ago, coach Kevin Walters among those at Brisbane reaching out to the champion No.9 about joining the Red Hill rebuild.
Twenty years ago it was Bennett sitting in an office across from then 17-year-old Smith, who would famously knock the Broncos back for the first, though not last, time.
“We made him an offer, it was a good offer, the bottom line was he made a choice to go to Melbourne and that was his choice,” Bennett recalled of the similar $10,000 offer Brisbane put in front of Smith.
“We wanted him there but he didn’t think it suited him for whatever reason.
“I’m pleased for him, I’m really pleased for him. I’ve had the pleasure of coaching him a couple of times, and I was never more relaxed in the coaching box [than] when he was playing for me, and I mean that.
“He was wonderful, I had him in a couple of All Stars games and he just made it so much easier.”
For the record, Smith’s recent memoir put his decision to plump for the Storm down to Brisbane having representative hookers Luke Priddis and Richard Swain on their books in the early 2000s. Simple as that.
Can’t imagine he’s lost much sleep over that one.
Smith’s return to Melbourne was his first in some time, having spent the summer “rotating through three pairs of shorts and shirts on the Gold Coast”.
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More of the same beckons after Wednesday’s announcement, though talks around an ambassador or coaching role with the Storm will continue.
So too will plans for a proper send-off in front of Melbourne’s faithful.
Smith won’t stay for Thursday’s clash with Bennett and the Bunnies because it is his daughter’s 13th birthday.
Their next home game, round four, against who else but the Broncos, is unavailable too.
After 430 NRL games, three titles, five grand final wins, 42 Origins and 56 Tests, Smith has booked a family holiday.
No fuss or fanfare required.