Cameron Smith has officially retired from professional rugby league.
After months of speculation about whether the NRL legend would play on in 2021, he finally decided to call time on his illustrious career.
“Cameron Smith has today announced his retirement from professional rugby league,” the Melbourne Storm said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Cam is not only among the most decorated players the game has ever seen, he made an immeasurable contribution to our club on and off the field, and his legacy will be remembered in Melbourne forever.”
Questions were being asked throughout 2020 whether Smith would continue or hang up the boots this season. He kept everyone guessing and it looked like the 37-year-old might wander off into the sunset without a major announcement, but the news many expected was finally delivered on Wednesday.
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Smith confirmed his retirement at the unveiling of a statue of himself and fellow Storm legend Billy Slater at the team’s home stadium of AAMI Park, saying it felt like the right time to leave after winning the premiership last season.
“I had a really good opportunity to think over my thoughts on playing on or not playing on,” Smith told reporters. “I looked back on my career and thought I was very fortunate to be a part of a wonderful organisation.
“It felt like the right time to finish on the back of what was a very successful season. You couldn’t ask for more than finishing with a premiership.
“I wrestled with the idea for quite some time, that’s why it’s taken so long.
“I spoke to a handful of people that are quite close to me throughout last year while the season was still on and then in the weeks after the season had finished — people like Billy. I was trying to talk with them on not only my situation but also pick their brain of how they came to the conclusion that it was the time to end their professional career.
“I had to wrestle with that decision because that’s what made it most difficult. At the end of last year, winning the premiership, I still felt good within myself physically and mentally and felt my form was still good enough to play in the NRL.
“But at the end of the day once I’d spent good quality time with my family up in Queensland, I knew that was the right time to finish.”
Smith admitted he’d made his decision a week ago, but wanted to wait until Wednesday to announce it because it was the perfect occasion.
“The unveiling of the statue was today and I knew I was going to be in Melbourne so it was the perfect opportunity to announce my decision seeing as this was where I — and Billy — started our career right here in Olympic Park in 2002,” he said.
“This is where I wanted to officially end it as well. And I had the opportunity to stand next to my good friend Billy too when I announced it.”
Since finishing up last season, Smith has really enjoyed his freedom and spending more time with his family. It clarified to him that now was the right time to call it quits.
“I’ve actually really enjoyed having my own time to do my own thing,” Smith told reporters.
“It’s actually been quite refreshing to me as a person being able to pick and choose what I want to do, rather than being dictated to by a training session or a scheduled draw.
“At the end of the day, once I spent quality time with my family in Queensland I knew it was the right time to finish.
“It gives me the opportunity now to enjoy what’s going to be the next phase and chapter of my life. Hopefully it will involve rugby league in some capacity.”
Smith isn’t sure what his future holds and wants to take some time to “let the dust settle” before deciding on his next career move.
“I think I might just put my feet up for 12 months,” he joked.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy told the media on Wednesday he only found out about Smith’s retirement when the ex-Kangaroos and Queensland skipper called him on Wednesday morning.
The writing was on the wall when Melbourne announced two new co-captains last month, handing the leadership reins to Dale Finucane and Jesse Bromwich, who took over from Smith.
While Smith’s time in the Victorian capital was up, there remained speculation he could still play on for a rival club in 2021. Having relocated to the Gold Coast, rumours continued to swirl the 37-year-old would ink a deal with either the Titans or Broncos to keep his NRL career alive.
The Broncos said publicly they were chasing Smith and wanted him on their books this season, while the Titans played down any link to the future Immortal.
In the end, Smith opted against continuing his career in the Sunshine State, saying the lure of being a one-club player contributed to his decision.
“A major factor was remaining a one-club player. I always had a thought I wanted to be a one-club player, not knowing that’s how it would pan out,” Smith said.
“I was able to play here (Melbourne) for 19 seasons and enjoy a lot of success on the field. I gained a lot of great memories and friends from the time I spent here.”
Earlier this week some pundits, including NRL commentator Andrew Voss, suggested it was “sad” Smith had chosen to drift off into the rugby league wilderness. But he decided to finally address his personal situation after months of debate and go public.
Journalist Robert Craddock revealed on Tuesday just how much Smith was wrestling with whether now was the time to retire, as even his wife questioned why it was taking so long to make a call.
Slater described Smith as the most influential player he’s seen in rugby league, and it’s a legacy the veteran will take with him into retirement.
He played 433 games for Melbourne — becoming the first player to ever break the 400-game barrier — and represented Queensland 42 times, to go with his 56 Tests for Australia.
The smartest operator in the game, Smith was renowned for controlling a game from dummy-half and picking the opposition apart like a surgeon.
He debuted in first grade all the way back in 2002 and developed into one of the most dominant players in the NRL — a reputation he maintained right until the very end.