Cameron Smith is confident he’s handling the Alex McKinnon controversy the right way and doesn’t believe it’s detracted from his record-breaking 300-NRL game milestone.
National captain Smith, 32, will become the first Melbourne player and the 24th in the NRL to reach the mark on Friday night when the Storm host Penrith at AAMI Park.
Brisbane great Darren Lockyer, with 355 games, leads that elite group with Smith every chance to eventually surpass him.
Starting his career with Melbourne back in 2002, the Storm skipper said it had been a roller-coaster ride, the latest low coming with McKinnon’s comments in his recent television interview.
He declined to answer questions about plans to talk to the former Newcastle forward, who was bitterly critical of Smith’s on-field comments to the referee following the tackle that left him a quadriplegic last year.
Smith said his performance in leading Queensland to their crushing State of Origin series win over NSW last week demonstrated he’d been able to cope with the ensuing public storm.
“I showed last Wednesday night that I’ve put everything behind me and I’ve dealt with it in my own way and I think that’s the right way,” Smith said.
“I said that this whole process will be dealt with privately and that’s the way we need to keep it.”
Asked if it had detracted from his milestone game, Smith said he didn’t believe so.
The Test hooker had plenty of support from his veteran coach Craig Bellamy who declared Smith the best and most consistent player he’d seen.
“He’s just such a reliable player; you know what you’re going to get from him each week,” Bellamy said.
“He’s not only the best dummy half … I don’t think there’s been too many better players.
“I’m 56 and I’ve seen a few good players over the years and I don’t think I’ve seen as good a player as Cameron but also as consistently good as well.”
Smith said he still had a burning ambition to win another NRL premiership, with the Storm taking the title in 2012 but stripped of two others for salary cap cheating.
“You never get sick and tired of winning premierships,” he said.
“We love playing the game but our goal is also to do the very best and that’s to win a premiership.”
He said he was proud to reach 300 games at the Storm, which was a big incentive in turning down lucrative offers to leave last year.
“This was a big part of that, to stay at the one club and achieve a milestone like this because it’s very rare in our sport.”
He said his love of the game, playing alongside great mates, and a bit of luck injury-wise meant reaching the mark had come fairly easily.
“It’s always been fun for me; that’s the way I’ve always approached my football and it’s probably why I’ve been able to play so many games.
“I don’t see it as a job or a chore.
“There’s times when it’s been tough, no doubt about that, but at the end of the day you’re out there with your mates doing what you love.”
CAMERON SMITH – BY THE NUMBERS:
* 299 – NRL games
* 205 – Number of wins, 4th on all-time NRL list
* 119 – Number of wins as captain, 2nd on all-time NRL list
* 1735 – Total career points scored, 9th all-time
* 791 – Goals
* 38 – Tries
* 1 – Field goal
* Melbourne player of the year: 2005-07, 2011-13
* Grand final victories: 2007, 2009, 2012
* Representative honours: Australia – 43 Tests (2006-15) – including 20 as captain
Source: Melbourne Storm