Cameron Smith’s reliable left foot has him on the cusp of breaking Hazem Els Masri’s all-time scoring record but the Melbourne captain could just have easily have landed his tally of 1117 goals with his right foot.
Wayne Smith, the father of Cameron, told NRL.com about how his son had done some work early in his NRL career with rugby league’s most famous two-footed, or ambipedal, goal kicker Mike Eden.
"Mike would kick them either foot depending on the side of the field it was on and he said to Cam that mechanically he was probably a right-footer, but he’s just more confident with his left foot," Wayne said.
"I’m a left-footer too and we used to kick the ball to each other when Cam was young, but he was just as good with his right foot at goal kicks. He would kick them over at training with either foot."
Smith has 2410 points, just eight behind El Masri’s mark of 2418, and is a red-hot chance of breaking the record when the Storm host Canterbury on Sunday.
NRL.com asked Eden whether he still reckoned Smith, who has a 74.5% success rate with his kicks, could have kicked as well with his right foot.
"Not as well … better," Eden grinned.
"Cameron is a freak but I still wish he had kicked with his right foot. I think his percentages would have been even higher.
"I once spoke to him about it when Matt Orford was at the club and said the reason I kicked left foot was to open up the angle on the right hand side. As Cameron has a high workload and does 90 tackles a game I suggested that Cameron kick them from the right side of the field and let Matt kick them from the left.
"Cameron said ‘No, I can kick them with my right’ and went and knocked over three goals with his right foot from the sideline. The guy is a genius."
Eden, who unlike Smith was naturally a right-footer, explained why Smith was more accurate when kicking with his right foot.
"I always found that when I kicked with my left foot I did the same routine over and over again, because it wasn’t natural, whereas with my right foot I just put the ball down, walked back and kick the ball because it did feel natural,” Eden said.
"Cameron had his shoulders in the right spot and his head in the right position all the time because he concentrated more with his right foot, but he just said he couldn’t get the nerves out.
"Can you imagine him having nerves? He said he’d never kick one with his right foot in a game, but I’ve always been waiting and watching his games to see if he would try it."
Smith did take a kick with his right foot in North Queensland from the sideline in 2010. Eden had a look and said: "He hit that nice. His right hand dropped a little but the curve and the flight was good."
Wayne Smith has an anecdote about the one game where Cameron nearly did the same thing in a semi-final, when he was younger and more gung ho, before he learned a valuable lesson.
"It was the 2008 semi when Melbourne broke the Broncos' heart at Suncorp and GI’s try in the final seconds won them the game," Wayne chuckled.
"They had to take the goal kick anyway and Cam said to Matty Geyer 'I’d like to kick this right-footed'. Matty Geyer said 'don’t do that. It would be disrespectful to Brisbane'. He took it left-footed and missed it, but that was the young Cam Smith still learning the game."
Wayne said a teenaged Cameron was happy when taking the sideline conversions but "didn’t like taking the ones from in front".
"It was because if you missed them from in front you were laughed at, and he didn’t like that, but if you missed the ones out wide it was 'ah well you weren’t meant to kick that anyway'," Wayne grinned.
"When he was playing for Norths Devils and Terry Matterson was coach he’d missed three or four in a row one day. The water runner came off and told Terry that Cam didn’t want to take them anymore and Terry said 'tell him that if he doesn’t want to take the kicks he can come and watch the game with me'.
"Subsequently he kicked the next four. It was a lesson about hanging in there."
Eden, who held the Roosters' record for most points in a season until it was broken by Ivan Cleary, said "guys like Daryl Halligan, Matthew Ridge, Jason Taylor and El Masri took goal kicking to the next level".
While Smith would never claim to be as good a kicker as the likes of Halligan or El Masri, whose percentages were 79.3% and 82% respectively, he remains the only man in the history of the game to land 1000 goals.
Smith's goal kicking has improved as he has got older and for the last five years his strike rate has hovered closer to 80%.
Storm v Bulldogs - Round 4
Eden, who owns a law practice in Albury, said physical and mental strength were key reasons why Smith had been able to kick successfully for so long.
"To never miss those easy ones is how you get your success rate around that 80% and Cameron is good at that and why he is probably the best ever," Eden said.
“One thing that is so good about Cameron is that, like golfers, he visualises it going over because he's kicked them from all areas of the park before. He’s never had any negative thoughts in his brain.
"Cameron does all that work that he does with the ball and in defence but he still is able to compartmentalise and get his heart rate down really well to kick.
"He is amazing. I don’t know what the secret is. I wish we all had it."