ANDREW JOHNS – NINEMSN COLUMN

Smith is just about the best ever

Cameron Smith is close to being the best rugby league player I have ever seen. I was on the sideline last weekend to watch my beloved Newcastle Knights take on Melbourne Storm in what was always going to be a tough battle. With the emotion of Danny Buderus playing at home for the first time since reaching the 250 NRL game mark, the tightness of the battle for a top eight spot and a full house of roaring Knights fans I thought Newcastle had a chance to upset Melbourne. They certainly had enough possession to do so, but they were up against Smith and his mates.

If you take a look at Smith, he looks like an air conditioner salesman who you might bump into inside the local TAB. Stubble-covered face, bags under his eyes, never showing much emotion. When you see him at a Storm recovery session, he looks like he was last in line when the physiques were handed out. But he is the ultimate example of a great footballer being better than a great athlete.

No one can completely control a game like Smith does. Playing in the toughest position on the field, he knows exactly when to pass, when to run, when to kick and can manage the tempo of the game to suit the way his team is travelling. He is obviously one of the key reasons the Storm will be hard to beat again this season but more than that, he is up there with Wally Lewis when it comes to our greatest ever players.

It is sad to see the way another of our great players is bowing out of the game. I watched Benji Marshall last week against the Roosters and he was a shadow of the player he once was for the Tigers. Enough has been said about the trouble at the club and Marshall’s future in rugby union, but I’m hoping we get to see a better finish to the season from him.

Wests Tigers take on St George Illawarra at the SCG this weekend in a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the great mud-covered 1963 grand final between St George and Western Suburbs. With both teams out of finals contention this year, I hope the big occasion will bring out the best in Marshall. He deserves to be remembered as one of the Tigers’ greats and to hear roars of support from the fans before he goes.

Coaches continue to cop the punishment for their underperforming players, the latest being Canberra’s David Furner. I hate the expression, but word from Canberra is that Furner had “lost the support of the dressing room”. Players are paid to play, coaches are paid to coach, but the relationship can reach a point where the players don’t turn up for a coach they don’t respect or feel comfortable working for. It had obviously reached crisis point at the Raiders, for them to sack him immediately, with only a few rounds remaining and the club still a real chance of making the finals.

The Raiders host Manly this weekend and it will be interesting to see whether they benefit from the often seen post-coach-sacking boost. They couldn’t have picked a better time to take on the Sea Eagles, with Anthony Watmough set to miss the game after his knee flared up thanks to Jeff Lima’s crocodile roll leg-twist tackle. Manly were the better team for 60 minutes of their clash with South Sydney last week, but really should have scored more points. The disallowed try to Steve Matai was the turning point and the Rabbitohs capitalised with Adam Reynolds back to his best with Greg Inglis and John Sutton by his side.

This week the Rabbitohs take on the side that knocked them out of last year’s finals series and I think they will roll right over the top of the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs looked ordinary last week in beating the Raiders. With a couple of big name players on the sidelines, they didn’t look like they could get out of second gear. They don’t look anywhere near the threat they were last year, when the only team between them and premiership glory was Melbourne, led by that genius air conditioner salesman Cameron Smith.

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