When Melbourne Storm hooker Cameron Smith injured his left shoulder last Sunday upon scoring his club’s second try against Newcastle, some shudders of fear could be heard rattling through the club’s camp, and their supporters.
“How do we replace this legend?”
“How do we cover for his influence and leadership?”
“And what does it mean for the future of the club?”
Those would have been some of the hypothetical queries criss-crossing through the minds of many, and for good reason.
Cam Smith’s ironman reputation is just as legendary as his playing resume – Saturday’s match against Canterbury will only mark the first time since 2016 that he has been ruled out due to injury, and he has only missed six games in total over 19 years while amassing 423 NRL games played, not counting State of Origin or international matches, and every match he sets foot onto the paddock extends his NRL record for games played.
And while captaining the Storm this season, as he has since 2006, Cam Smith has been in fine form. With the exception of that one try scored against the Knights, his first since Round 20 of last season, his form with foot has been impeccable, as he also racked up another 100-point season, his 15th campaign in which the NRL’s all-time points leader has compiled a ton or greater, and kicking conversions and penalty goals at an 86.4 percent rate to boot.
Cam Smith is more than just a rugby league legend for club, Queensland in State of Origin, and country with the Kangaroos – he represents sporting legend. Even in AFL-mad Melbourne, the mere mention of his name is met with same tones of reverence alongside the likes of Gary Ablett, Nathan Buckley, and Buddy Franklin, to name but a few over that same timespan.
Cam Smith is an icon, and one whose career’s closing curtain is close to falling. That is inevitable.
So in a case of “stop me if you’ve heard this one before”, Cam Smith – at age 37, and all – will have to be replaced. And there really is no better time like the present for Storm coach Craig Bellamy to deal with it.
Granted that Cam Smith may only miss the Storm’s games against the Bulldogs as well as against the Sydney Roosters, and quite possibly against Parramatta as well, pending a fitness test and recovery, but this is a perfect opportunity for Bellamy to fill a long-term solution as to who his replacement will be.
“Every team goes through injuries at some point, so now it’s our turn to deal with it,” Bellamy said post-match on Sunday while relating his thoughts on Cam Smith’s injury.
At the same time, Bellamy said that Brandon Smith would be a man-for-man swap for Cam Smith’s on-field position.
So what difference does it make?
An understanding of Brandon Smith’s career to date would reveal that at 24 years of age, he has already accomplished quite a bit, and the best is potentially yet to come.
Brandon Smith has represented his native New Zealand at international level, is currently in his fourth NRL campaign, all with the Storm, has scored eight tries in 54 career appearances to date, three of which coming so far this season, and is a ready-made positional replacement for Cam Smith.
That last factoid represents a minimum expectation for Bellamy, the Storm’s players, and the fans watching. And having been a part of the Storm’s winning culture over the time he has been in the fold can only bode well for Brandon Smith, as a valuable intangible, aside from the statistics he has compiled for the club since his debut in 2017.
So if there’s no time like the present to plug Brandon Smith into Cam Smith’s on-field spot, then how soon is now?
“Cameron has had a great influence on our team so it is going to be a real test for us without a doubt but I have got a lot of confidence in Brandon to come in and replace him,” Bellamy said early in the week when comparing and contrasting the two Smiths.
“He [Brandon] is a different style of player, but we think he will do a real good job,” Bellamy added, hoping that the replacement will have a hand-in-glove effect.
Bellamy also mentioned that certain players will have to chop and change their roles, for at least the short term, to make up for Cam Smith’s absence and amid Brandon Smith replacing him – and this only starts with Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane sharing the club’s captaincy for the time being.
“We just need to get the halves [Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes] and the fullback [Ryan Papenhuyzen] and a couple of our experienced ruck players to take more responsibility with our communication in what we do and how we are doing it.
“It is a good test but something we are looking forward to,” Bellamy said.
And if those players can channel Bellamy’s directions, and if Brandon Smith excels in this short spurt of matches, then perhaps every day is like Sunday in the saga of the Smiths, and likewise the Storm.