Back-to-back NRL titles, 400 games drive Golden boy Smith

Two-time Golden Boot winner and rugby league ironman Cameron Smith insists the NRL’s previously unthinkable 400-game milestone is within reach as the lure of leading the Storm to the only back-to-back premierships in the modern era drives the game’s record breaker.
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On the cusp of lifting a second World Cup in his storied career, the Australian captain edged out New Zealand’s Jason Taumalolo, England’s Jermaine McGillvary and Fiji’s Suliasi Vunivalu to win his second Golden Boot on Wednesday, 10 years after his first.

But the 34-year-old insists there is still more to achieve, despite remaining non-committal about his representative future beyond the World Cup final against England in Brisbane.

The record holder for the most NRL games and consecutive Test matches can cap almost the perfect season – which has included another State of Origin success, an NRL title and Dally M Medal – if he hoists international rugby league’s most cherished silverware aloft on Saturday night.

Only the controversial Clive Churchill Medal win of Storm teammate Billy Slater stopped Smith’s clean sweep in 2017.

Smith and Slater remain equally hesitant to declare their future in green and gold beyond the World Cup, but Smith is much more certain about the chance of becoming the NRL’s first player to soar past the 400-game milestone.

“I think it’s achievable,” said Smith, who sits on 358 games. “It’s within reach, isn’t it?

“I think the important thing is I don’t try to change what’s worked for me in the past. That’s training hard and preparing myself mentally and physically for games and come the weekend you’ve done everything possible to get yourself right for those matches.

“It would [also] be nice to go back-to-back next year. That’s something I don’t think any team has achieved in the NRL era. I think that would be a pretty special thing to do.

“There’s been a few sides there that have been there in the grand final after they’ve won a premiership and I was involved in a couple of those teams and we couldn’t get the job done. It’s a really, really hard thing to do and that would be special.”

While Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has anointed NSW skipper Boyd Cordner as Smith’s heir apparent to the Australian captaincy, the incumbent has proven his form will warrant selection for as long as he covets it.

He shied away from confirming 2017 had been his greatest year on the field, but the accolades he has racked up along the way make it hard to argue against it.

“I don’t ever want to drop my standards,” Smith said. “That’s always been very important to me. No matter my age or what circumstances are happening throughout the season, I always try to give my best throughout the year.

“It’s funny how your career goes around in a circle. It almost seems when you’re at the end it’s similar to the way it started.

“You’re there to enjoy it with your mates and I think you play with a lot more freedom than what you did in the middle part of your career. I think you’re a bit too worried to do anything wrong or worried about what the result’s going to be or what the coach is going to say about the way you play.

“Certainly this year – and for the most part of last year – every time I got on the paddock I was there to play like I did when I was in junior football, fun footy with my mates. Whatever I see in front of me, that’s the way I play. I didn’t lock myself up to play to any sort of structure, it was just play what’s in front of me.”

Smith joined three-time winner Johnathan Thurston, as well as Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer, as the only multiple winners of the Golden Boot, rugby league’s highest individual accolade.

But he was quick to deflect the praise to his Australian, Queensland and Storm teammates.

“I’ve been lucky enough to win it once before, but that was a long time ago,” Smith said. “I’m extremely humbled to win the award.”

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