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Ryles: Smith in 'top handful' of greats but GOAT too hard to decide

Storm assistant coach Jason Ryles believes Cameron Smith is solidified in "the top handful" of players throughout history but admits it's exceedingly tough to compare eras.

The 37-year-old Melbourne captain will feature in his eighth grand final when his team faces Penrith at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.

Whether it will be his 430th and last NRL appearance is yet to be confirmed, but with the end possibly around the corner, debate has picked up about Smith's overall standing in the game.

For Ryles, who played against and with Smith before joining the Storm's coaching staff, the hooker's legend status is unquestioned but he was reluctant to crown him the undisputed GOAT.

"I think obviously he's going to be in the top handful. The whole greatest of all time thing, I think every era's got different rules and the game's played slightly differently in each era," Ryles said.

"So Mal Meninga was great in his era, and Reg Gasnier and John Raper, they were great in their era.

"To say who's the greatest, I think the game hasn't been consistently the same standard and set of rules for the whole 112 years.

"I think every block of 10 or 15 years, you're going to go, 'Wow, Andrew Johns was one of the greatest players of that era' and Darren Lockyer, you know?

"I think Cameron in this era is going to be one of the greatest players in this block of footy, the last 15 or 20 years.

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"Saying who's the greatest of all time I think is near impossible because the game of footy - if you go and watch it in 1908, to 1940, to 1970, to 2020, it's so different."

Smith's wealth of victories underlines Melbourne's advantage over Penrith in terms of exposure to pressure.

However, Ryles thinks that will ultimately matter little.

"I've had a little bit of experience with the under-20s teams, with the Aussie team and also the NSW team," he said.

"And this group of [Panthers] kids that have come through now, they've come through winning. Winning's not new to them.

"They've demolished the under-20s comps coming through, they've done really well in the reserve grade competition.

"They know what big games are about at this stage of their career.

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"This is just another level again. For these guys, for the [Nathan] Clearys and the Tyrone Mays and all those guys that came through in that crop of players, Dylan Edwards, they're used to winning.

"I think it's reflective in the culture that they've been able to build with Ivan [Cleary's] guidance at the moment.

"Whilst we might have a little bit more NRL experience, these kids coming through - they're fearless."