Candid Cameron

IMG_1844By STEVE MASCORD

EVEN when Cameron Smith is upset, he probably doesn’t GET upset.

The captain of Queensland, Melbourne and Australia is sitting in the foyer of the Marriott in Leeds on a crisp, clear Yorkshire afternoon a few days before the World Club Challenge.

Geographically, he’s a long way from the issues swirling around rugby league – doping, organised crime, match-fixing and – more traditionally – scheduling. But in truth, you are never far away when you are captain of your country.

But Smith, in purple kit and grasping a water bottle, chuckles at little jokes, listens to questions carefully and doesn’t hesitate with answers. If you’re looking for a snapshot of how NRL players feel as we hurtle into 2013 and a brave new era of prosperity, this is the place to get it.

BEING A DIPLOMAT Vs SPEAKING UP FOR FELLOW PLAYERS

“You see how the leaders handle themselves. You have to be true to yourself. I’ve always prided myself on being honest with my opinions but at the same time you’ve got to understand where other people are coming from with their concepts and ideas to try take the game forward. I see my role in the game at the moment as a bit of a voice for the players. I speak to guys all around the competition fairly regularly. They voice concerns to me and they also let me know what things they think are going really good in the game. I feel it’s my job to do what best portrays the playing group. If we all understand where we’re headed and we’re all on the same page, we can get some good things done in the game. We’ve always had the product on the field, we’ve had a great product on the field, but back home we’ve struggled business-wise to be the number on code in the country. You can’t look at it as a burden, with all the things going on and everyone having a say. You’ve got to look at it as positive. If we do that, we’ll come up with a pretty special package, both domestically and the international game.”

EXPANSION

“There hasn’t been (movement) and I think that’s a shame because that’s the way we need to go. That should be high on our priorities, to make our sport a truly national sport. At the moment we play down the eastern seaboard and we’ve got one team in New Zealand. We’ve got to try and take out game to … WA, particularly. That’s where a lot of the noise is coming from, I know there’s some pretty good support over there. I’ve been lucky enough to play NRL matches in Perth, I’ve been lucky enough to play NRL matches in Adelaide and there’s been good support, good crowds. There’s a strong competition in Perth. With new money coming in, I know there’s going to be things we need to look after. The CBA is going to be signed off on pretty soon. But (expansion) works in perfectly with the TV deal. Everyone is after live sport. You’re getting three games back to back.”

INDUSTRIAL THREAT TO ALL STAR GAME

“I can’t tell you where that came from, mate. I don’t know where that came from. As far as I’m concerned, that wasn’t an option for the players to interrupt that week or boycott that game because it’s a special game and it’s a special week for everyone involved. Everything moved forward pretty quickly with the CBA. From the first proposal the NRL came to us with … they (later) came to a pretty good agreement with the players.”

AUSTRALIAN CRIME COMMISSION INVESTIGATION

“I think it’s the way it was handled. They came out with all these allegations on not just rugby league but Australian sport. We play rugby league but we all love other sports as well and they’ve just come out and hammered Australian sport. That was the most disappointing thing – without any solid evidence. If they’re going to come out and have a press conference like that, name someone if you’ve got something. Name someone so it just doesn’t throw a blanket over everybody that plays elite sport in Australia. As far as I’m concerned, the Melbourne Storm, we’ve got nothing to hide from anyone. If people want to come in and investigate our club and investigate our staff and our players, then no worries. We’ve got nothing to hide. It’s obviously a course of action that those people need to take and that will happen in the near future. But it was quite disappointing the way it was all handled. They say they’ve been investigating for so long –give us some names. Don’t just say it’s in rugby league, it’s in Aussie Rules, there’s this in cricket. The fans are sitting back going ‘is my team involved?’,‘is my favourite player involved in this stuff?’. It’s since moved on. The majority of clubs have been cleared. Hopefully it’s done and dusted as soon as possible.”

PLAYERS WITH GETOUT CLAUSES IF CRAIG BELLAMY LEAVES

“I didn’t even think about my situation if he had left. I was just hoping he was going to re-sign. It was like it wasn’t even happening. We just went about our business.”

HIS CONTRACTUAL SITUATION

“Who knows (laughs)? I’ll have to ring my manager. I don’t even know how long he’s locked me into this club for! I think I’m off contract next year. Who knows what the future holds? When I first started playing, I thought if I ever had the chance to play first grade, I want to be a one-club player. But things change, mate. I’ve got a family now with three kids where we’re living away from the rest of our family, which is up in Queensland, and sometimes it’s hard. Footy’s been great, the club’s been great, we love Melbourne. But sometimes it’s difficult when you have to travel. It’s hard for the wife to look after three kids. These are issues you face in life. Who knows what will happen the next time I’m off contract. I’d like to think the Storm would like me to stay. I’d like to stay but we’ll just have to see what happens. You read about JT’s (Johnathan Thurston’s) situation at the moment where he’s got a pretty big decision to make for his future. When you’re JT and my age – we’re 30 this year – a big part of it is football but a big part of it also is life after footy as well. We’re coming to the stage of our careers where we’re almost finished. I’ve been at this club for 12 years and I haven’t got 12 years left. We’re happy where we are now.”

PLANS AFTER RETIREMENT.

“I’d love to stay involved in the game. League’s given me a lot. Whether that’s in media or some sort of coaching role … I can tell you right now it won’t be a head coaching role. I’ve seen how hard this bloke (Craig Bellamy) works.”

2010 AND THE LEGACY OF BEING STRIPPED OF TWO PREMIERSHIPS

“I’ll tell you straight-up, I don’t think about 2010 at all. I never think about that year and what happened. Obviously you can’t erase it, it’s always there but I don’t sit there and think about it. I think that’s the great thing about this place – we move on quickly. You look at the last two seasons, we couldn’t have achieved what we achieved – preliminary finalists an premiers – if you were stuck on what happened in 2010.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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