His great mate, Queensland and Cowboys playmaker Johnathan Thurston, grew frustrated in the final two years of his career because his body wouldn’t allow him to do the things he wanted it to do.
For Sam Burgess, it was a shoulder. Greg Inglis, a knee.
Smith has been sidelined for the past two matches with a nagging shoulder injury suffered while scoring a try – just the 46th of his career – against the Knights. He is considered little chance of playing against Parramatta on Thursday night.
But the shoulder is an annoyance, not a sign that he should give it away.
Until that point, he was playing so well that teammates were jokingly telling him after matches to sign on for another two years.
Newcastle Knights halfback Andrew Johns, whose own brilliant career was ended by a serious neck injury, has regularly called Smith the best player he’s seen.
After Smith’s masterclass against the Broncos in round 11, Johns sent him a text message pleading with him to not retire.
If only the matter was that simple: for Smith, his family and the Storm.
The Storm are making the right noises publicly, saying their captain can take as long as he wants. He’s entitled to it.
But they’d prefer a decision sooner rather than later because the longer it drags, the more of a distraction it will become heading towards the finals.
The stalemate appears to be the level of respect between coach and captain.
Smith won’t talk to anyone at the club but Craig Bellamy about his future. Bellamy doesn’t want to raise the subject with Smith because he doesn’t want to place any pressure on his greatest player.
Typically, Smith has been branded selfish by his critics for taking too much time, although he is more than aware the decision about his next 12 months dramatically influences the long-term futures of teammates Brandon Smith and Harry Grant, who is on loan to the Wests Tigers.
A revelation this season, Grant has a clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent next year if Smith decides to play on.
He’s gone from a player of potential to one who was leading the Dally M voting before it went behind closed doors. He’s added $300,000 a year to his value on the open market.
The other factor for Smith is COVID-19 and the influence it’s had on the Storm players and their families.
The greatest misunderstanding about Cameron Smith is that he’s someone who needs attention. He’s the opposite; a simple family man who wants to play footy and spend time him with his family.
The coronavirus hasn’t just dispatched the Storm to the Sunshine Coast, locked down in a resort at Twin Waters. It’s separated Smith from his wife Barb and three children, who have relocated to Brisbane.
And that’s where the Broncos come in.
The speculation continues to grow that Smith will either retire at the end of this year – or play one final season at the Broncos.
His manager, Isaac Moses, says he hasn’t had a discussion with the Broncos. It’s more Smith’s style to make a decision about playing on before deciding where.
Fox Sports host Ben Ikin wants to become the next chief executive of the Broncos, and has made no secret of his desire to secure Smith if he gets the job when Paul White leaves in October.
Fox Sports is owned by News Corp, which is also the majority shareholder of the Broncos, and there’s a strong belief that the mothership wouldn’t allow Ikin to talk so freely if he wasn’t getting the job.
He wants Smith there alongside him to mop up the mess, which continues to be revealed on a daily basis at Red Hill.
This column has been told the playing group has been divided since the COVID-19 break. It is spilt into players who want to properly prepare for matches, regardless of what they think of coach Anthony Seibold; and those who are prepared to do whatever they want.
The Broncos have become everything the Storm are not. They are everything that Smith is not.
There’s a romantic storyline about him playing one last season for the club that snubbed him as a junior playing for his beloved Logan Brothers; that wouldn’t give him a tracksuit let alone a scholarship.
But what would one final season look like, whether it’s under likely Seibold replacements Paul Green or Kevin Walters, for the game’s greatest player of the modern era?
It’s another factor to throw in the mix as Smith considers a decision his body refuses to make.
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Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.