Cameron Smith has detailed how his desire to improve every time he steps on a football field has been intensified by the rising stars at the Melbourne Storm who give him an extra spring in his step.
In his 300th game as Storm captain, the 36-year-old put on a masterclass in the 40-4 walloping of the Broncos on Friday night, creating several tries with the guile of his passes, scoring a try and kicking with precision in general play.
It was his 403rd NRL game and coach Craig Bellamy was in awe of how reaching the magic 400-mark had not dimmed Smith’s desire.
"The one thing I probably have been looking for since that [400th] game is whether there is going to be a drop-off in his intensity or in his interest but I haven’t seen that at all," Bellamy said.
"I made that point to him just before it, whether he has still got the hunger even though he has got that record. He just achieved a record tonight with that being the 300th game he’s been captain. I think 39 players have played 300 and he has captained 300. He is a remarkable player and person."
Smith said that quest to be better was driven by several individual and team factors.
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"I have had the mindset since I was a young fella that I am here to compete against the opposition every weekend but my biggest competitor is myself and I always want to outdo my last performance," Smith said.
"So if I am lucky enough to go out and perform well I never get comfortable with that or think 'that will do'. I have always wanted to go out and better that again, and better that again each week. So long as I still have that hunger and drive to go out and compete against myself, that is going to help me perform well.
"The other thing that has really driven me and kept me hungry is the new faces popping up at the Melbourne Storm.
"Everyone knows about the more experienced players we have lost over the last couple of years, some of the greatest players the game has seen, but we have seen the emergence of Papenhuyzen, Hughes, Stimson, Welch and guys like Addo-Carr and Olam. They bring a new energy and a new enthusiasm to the team.
"That helps me create new energy as well. It is great to be able to be around those guys and help them develop into consistent footballers. It has given me a new spring in my step."
Bellamy said that he was not surprised that Smith continued to shine in the twilight years of his career because of what he sees every day.
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"I see every week that he is still competitive at training and he still wants to get better, and I know that sounds a bit stupid to all of us but he does," Bellamy said.
"You don’t get better unless you put the work in, and he still puts the work in. We give him some sessions off now because of his age but when he does train, which is most of the time, he is the last guy to leave.
"He is always looking to get better in something. We all probably sit back and think 'how can he get better', but so long as he puts the work in he is capable of playing this game for a long period of time."
Bellamy said he was "pretty much sure [Smith] is going to play on next year".
Smith explained why he would be going around in 2020 now that the euphoria of reaching game 400 has subsided.
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"At this stage I am playing. I haven’t had any thoughts of not playing," he said.
"When I signed on for the two years I said to many people about the second season that I will always be in continual talks with Craig in particular, the rest of the coaches and the high performance staff about my contribution to the side and where they thought I was at physically.
"I am the one who knows how I feel mentally and I am enjoying my footy as much as I ever have. The coach hasn’t pulled me aside to say 'mate I don’t feel as though you are doing enough for us'.
"Some people feel that when you are playing well and on top, that is the right time to go. Others say to play as long as you can and that if you are enjoying it keep playing, and that is my mindset at the moment."
The Storm captain was proud of notching up his 300th game as captain of Melbourne after his father Wayne had presented him with a special jersey with the milestone etched into the fabric of his jumper.
"Craig mentioned after the game that there is 39 players that have played 300 and I am lucky enough to have captained 300. It is nice,” Smith said.
"My dad presented my jersey to me last night and he summed it up quite well when he said that if you hang around long enough these sort of things happen for you.
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"I must say it is a huge honour to be able to achieve that. I said to the boys that the first time I got the opportunity to captain the club it was a very proud moment and nothing has changed. Every time I get to walk out in front I am filled with a lot of pride."
On a lighter note, Smith was subbed with 13 minutes to go against Brisbane after scoring his 45th career try, just one behind the 46 that Bellamy scored in his career. Was that the reason the coach benched him?
"Yeah, that was one of the reasons," Bellamy grinned.
"He’s getting close. I was horrified that he scored that try tonight … that will be probably his most treasured record if he gets me I reckon. I am sure he is going to get me sooner or later and that is a bit of a running joke in our team at the moment."