Bronco’s lament: He should have been one of us
SHOULD Cameron Smith's durability carry on unabated, by the end of the 2018 NRL regular season the Storm skipper will have made 50 appearances at Suncorp Stadium; one Broncos great has lamented that it wasn't many, many more.
Smith will share Queensland's hallowed rugby league cathedral with close mate Johnathan Thurston for the final time in Friday night's testimonial match titled, 'A Night with Cam and JT'.
It is a fitting acknowledgment to two men who have provided Queensland footy fans with so much joy but who never once wore the colours of the Brisbane Broncos in the NRL.
The pair grew up playing against each other in Brisbane junior league competitions but while Smith was an unabashed Broncos fan the NRL powerhouse narrowly missed the jump on securing his signature, Melbourne sneaking in to snare a player who would shape the future of the club in an extraordinary way.
Not only did Smith reject the overtures of Wayne Bennett as a teenager, he revealed last year that he had decided to return to Brisbane for the 2015 season only to stay loyal to the Storm thanks to the support of his wife Barb.
Since moving to Melbourne and making his NRL debut in 2003 Smith has played 166 games for the Storm at their home grounds of Olympic and now AAMI Park, legendary Broncos hooker Kerrod Walters left to wonder what might have been had the Queensland and Australia captain never left Brisbane.
"I said to him once that it was a shame he didn't play for the Broncos because we would have won more premierships while he was there," Walters said.
"Obviously growing up in Brisbane I'm sure 'Smithy' was a Broncos supporter but obviously he's done wonderful things for the game in Melbourne and Victoria.
"He's been a great ambassador for the game, it's just a shame it wasn't as a Broncos player.
"But that's how his career panned out. He's been an ornament to the game and a once-in-a-generation player.
"I wouldn't say I'm close with him but I respect him and think he's been such a great ambassador for our game. I've got nothing but praise and admiration for him."
In 46 games for the Storm, Maroons and Kangaroos at Suncorp Stadium Smith boasts a winning percentage of 71.74 per cent, that number rising to 76.47 per cent in NRL games for the Storm.
On 15 occasions Smith has lined up against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium and come away the victor 12 times, disappointing many Queenslanders who cheer him on come Origin time.
The 34-year-old's Origin record at Suncorp is 15 wins from 20 games and it remains to be seen whether 2018 will be his final appearance in the Queensland jersey.
Thurston and halves partner Cooper Cronk have already stepped down from representative football to focus their energies on the Cowboys and Roosters respectively but Walters is adamant that finding Smith's replacement will be brother Kevin's greatest challenge.
"He's our biggest loss by far because he's just such an imposing player," said Walters, who was Queensland's starting hooker in six Origin matches.
"He can be such a dominant figure in the game and he is by far and away the game's best hooker.
"There's streets between him and the next person, the likes of the McCulloughs, the Granvilles and the Friends.
"He's on another level and will be very hard to replace but someone will step up to the mark and do the job for us like they always do."
Thurston will be in the unfamiliar position of being an observer for the entirety of this year's Origin series and he too acknowledges that Smith is next to impossible to replace.
"That's probably going to be our biggest challenge," Thurston said of finding Smith's replacement.
"There hasn't been anyone dominate Origin like he does so that's going to be our biggest challenge, when he hangs up on the boots.
"Who steps in there and who can control a game like he does."