There are few people who know more about how difficult Cameron Smith’s retirement decision is than former teammate Billy Slater.
Champions with the Melbourne Storm as well as Queensland Origin and Kangaroos legends, the pair played many years and 319 NRL games alongside each other.
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Talk of Smith’s retirement has dominated the final stages of the oddest of NRL seasons and now in Grand Final week much of the discussion appears to point to Smith playing his final game in the 2020 finale — win, lose or draw.
Most players don’t make it to the age of 37 without their bodies starting to break down but in his 20th season in the NRL, Smith was named Dally M hooker of the year for the ninth time and finished fourth in the overall count.
After he was chaired off by his teammates in front of family and friends at Suncorp Stadium after the Storm’s crushing preliminary final win over the Raiders, Smith faced press conference after press conference where he said he didn’t know what he is going to do next season.
But that didn’t stop the footy world reading into what the most capped and highest point scorer of all-time was going to do.
But while many believe that Smith is trying to pull a fast one before his retirement after the Grand Final, Slater told news.com.au that he believes the NRL legend is still genuinely torn.
“To be honest, I genuinely think that Cameron just doesn’t know what he’s going to do,” he said. “I was in this situation in 2017, I didn’t make a decision on my future until a week after the game, a few days after the 2017 Grand Final.
“You don’t want to rush these decisions, you can’t come out and make a decision because you’ve got pressure on you to make it because other people want to know the decision. This is a guy who has played 430 NRL games and has been around playing the game for 18, 19 years. He just needs to make his decision in due course.
“For me, I think it’s just another great opportunity that we see possibly our greatest player play on the big stage again and I think we need to sit back and enjoy that rather than speculate on what he’s going to do in the future, enjoy what he’s doing right now.”
And if Smith does have just 80 minutes remaining in his unparalleled career, fans should enjoy seeing one of the greatest athletes to ever tie up a footy boot while they still can.
Slater added that he looked at Smith’s stats in the prelim and he didn’t get tackled, adding “if he keeps that up, he’ll be able to play for another 10 years”.
“It’s hard because everyone’s different,” Slater said. “My opinion on what he should do may not suit Cam. He’s just got to be sure what he wants to do because at 37, you can’t decide to retire and then come back in a couple of months time. There’s no coming back. It’s important to get the decision right and there’s no reason to rush it. That would be my advice, to make sure it’s the right decision.”
For Slater, 2020 has been a difficult season post-retirement. A member of the Channel 9 commentary team, the NRL great has been locked down in Victoria.
Although he said he lives on “a bit of property” in Victoria, Slater said it’s been a “really tough” time, with his children only just returning to school after months at home and seeing the effects of not being able to socialise.
It has seen Slater dip into investing with an investment in men’s online health clinic Mosh, pointing to an alarming 30 per cent increase in mental health issues in Victoria.
“I think there’s been a tradition around mens health in particular that men are really reluctant to talk about their health issues and even more reluctant to act on them,” he said.
“I really like the concept that people can better themselves and make themselves happier and healthier all from the comfort and confidentiality of their own home. I just think it’s a great idea and once I started talking to the company, I just thought I’d love to be involved in it.”
Slater added that on retirement, nothing can replicate the “rush and the adrenaline of running out on Grand Final day or running out into a full Suncorp Stadium when you’re playing for Queensland”.
But he added: “I’m really comfortable with retirement, I’ve still been able to remain in the game through my commitments at Channel 9 and my part in the coaching staff at the Melbourne Storm.
“That’s been a little bit difficult to go and do that over the last three months. I’m always going to miss it but the body is certainly appreciating waking up on Monday mornings.”
As for the NRL decider, Slater said the relatively inexperienced Panthers “need to trust themselves and play their footy” to take down the more experienced Storm.
Originally published as Legend’s take on Smith retirement circus