Unlike a cliched Disney film, fairytales are rare in professional sports, especially rugby league: legends like Ray Price, Mick Cronin, Mal Meninga, Steve Menzies, and Cooper Cronk got their perfect farewell, while other legends like Peter Sterling, Ricky Stuart, Darren Lockyer, and Johnathan Thurston had their careers cut short by injury.
At the time of writing, Cameron Smith is on the verge of a fairytale finish, having led the Melbourne Storm to the 2020 premiership. Most people would have called it quits on that high, but Smith’s future is still undecided, though he’s been linked with the Gold Coast Titans as he looks to become rugby league’s version of NFL great Tom Brady.
So, should Smith retire or keep on playing?
Why Smith Should Retire
As previously mentioned, Smith’s had the potential farewell that most players dream about: not only that, he’s probably got an assistant coaching and/or commentary role lined up when he retires. And he’s got his new book to promote.
While Smith is the ultimate professional, there’s also the risk of playing one season too many and finishing on a flat note. To use a cricket reference, legendary batsmen Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden were shadows of their best by the time they played their finals Tests: a sad way for both greats to finish.
Not everyone loves Smith, pointing to his murky “gamesmanship” tactics and and his at-times abrasive attitude towards referees (insert “Cam Smith retires to become a referee” meme here). The “Smith is a Grub” segment of rugby league supporters would love to see him fall on his face. So why give them that satisfaction?
Why Smith Should Play On
The rumours of Smith signing with the Titans is great for the game: a few years ago, they were anchored to the bottom four, were recovering from the disastrous Jarryd Hayne experiment, and they looked like being the latest addition to the Gold Coast Sporting Graveyard or being taken over by the North Sydney Bears.
Now, after the addition of coach Justin Holbrook, an encouraging end to 2020, and some big signings, the Titans will be finals favourites in 2021: at least towards the bottom half of the eight. If Smith signs on, the Titans could enter top four calculations. As well as the Brady factor, Smith might want to follow the lead of his mate Cooper Cronk: his Storm and Maroons teammate left Melbourne on a high in 2017, signed with the Roosters and won a personal premiership hat-trick in 2018-19. He steered the Roosters to the 2018 premiership despite playing with a broken scapula: a brave feat that is now a rugby league legend.
To be honest, it’d be fitting to see Smith – a proud Queenslander – finish his career up north, and it’d be even better to see him at a club on the rise like the Titans; by contrast, the Broncos (despite Channel Nine’s yearly generosity) are on a downward spiral, not helped by a troubled 2020/21 off-season. While he’ll have a shortened preparation, Smith is seasoned enough to manage his way through another big season. Plus, 99.99% of Victorians don’t like “rugby” and are obsessed with their precious AFL, so at least Gold Coast fans will appreciate Smith’s presence.
What we think will happen
If Smith plays on, he’ll be 38 by season’s end, so surely he can go around for one or two more years? Assuming he signs with the Titans, he could turn them into a serious finals team for the first time in a decade. Will they win the premiership? Probably not, but they’ll give it a real shake with Smith there.
Smith to stay on.