Smith's influence in Origin period sets up run home
Anyone who questioned Cameron Smith's decision to quit representative football need to look no further than the benefits both he and Melbourne have enjoyed in the past six weeks of the Telstra Premiership.
It began in round 12, a fortnight after Smith announced his retirement from the Queensland and Australian sides, and ended with a penalty goal to win the game 14-13 over Manly on Saturday night.
The veteran scored a try and kicked a penalty goal in Melbourne's 7-6 win over the Cowboys back in May – the game before the club would farewell at least five Origin stars over the next six weeks.
Melbourne missed their inspirational hooker in round 14 through suspension, and succumbed to a 24-4 loss on home turf.
But from there on, arguably Smith's biggest efforts couldn't have come at a more needed time as the Storm look to become the first side to go back-to-back in the NRL era.
The field goal at Adelaide Oval against the Roosters, an influential performance in last week's big win over the Dragons and a penalty goal to seal victory against the Sea Eagles.
The last six weeks for the Storm could have been a whole other story given Smith's concerns over the physical and mental toll Origin has had on him in recent years.
"Whether it has been or not had an effect on the younger players or guys in our squad I'm not too sure," Smith said of his decision to focus on club football this year.
"Over the best part of 15 years and more so the last couple I haven't been able to give too much through Origin. Craig (Bellamy) was giving me a lot of time off, I think that was more of a hindrance to the club than anything.
"I feel like I have a lot more energy to give to the club and team each day at training and on the weekends when we're playing.
"I'm just really happy I can spend some time now with this footy team, particularly the younger guys coming through because we have a lot of older boys at the club that will be coming to the end of their careers soon.
"These young fellas are going to be the future of our club and the faster they can get up to speed with being consistent NRL players the better the club will be."
Melbourne have not enjoyed a more successful Origin period since 2011, and Smith will now welcome the return of key men Billy Slater and Cameron Munster to help push for a title defence.
"It's an ongoing grind to finish the year and make up for the days you miss at training and the fatigue factor," Smith said.
"It's just been nice coming off a short pre-season because of World Cup commitments, to build now and I feel that personally, I'm in a really good spot."
Smith was also questioned about his relationship with Slater and former Storm teammate Cooper Cronk following the side's one-point win over Manly.
Speculation has been rife in the media for weeks that the star trio have had a falling out, though Smith poured cold water over the alleged feud.
"I've got no issues with those guys, no issue at all," he said.
"I think Billy addressed it last week I was told, so that's where I'm at with that."