Cameron Smith has announced his retirement, putting to bed months of speculation about his future.
Smith was honoured alongside fellow Storm icon Billy Slater with a statue outside AAMI Park on Wednesday and the former captain finally revealed his playing future.
It was initially announced via social media with the Storm putting out a statement to say Smith had announced his retirement from professional rugby league.
Smith, 37, is the highest-capped player in rugby league history with a record 430 NRL games, 42 State of Origin appearances and 56 Tests for Australia.
He made his NRL debut in 2002 as a halfback before making the transition to dummy half, where he revolutionised the game.
"I've spent a few months now up in Queensland with the family and had a really good chance to think about playing on or to not play on," Smith said on Wednesday.
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"I looked back on my career and just found that I was very fortunate to be part of a wonderful organisation filled with many great footballers and people as well.
"It felt like the right time to finish off the back of what was a very successful season last year, albeit a different season being away from home.
"You couldn't have asked for more than finishing with a premiership at a club I've played my whole career with."
Smith explained why it had taken so long for him to reach this point.
"I've been wrestling with the decision for quite some time and that's why it's taken so long. I spoke to a handful of people who are quite close to me throughout last year while the season was still on.
"In the weeks after the season had finished, guys like Billy and guys I've grown quite close to, [I was] just trying to talk to them about their thoughts, not only about my situation but pick their brain about how they came to the conclusion as to when it was the right time to finish their playing career.
"That's what made it more difficult because after last year winning the premiership, I still felt good within myself physically and mentally. I still thought my form was good enough to play in the NRL but after spending quality time with my family in Queensland I knew it was the right time to finish.
"It just gives me an opportunity now to enjoy what is going to be the next phase and chapter in my life and hopefully it will involve rugby league in some capacity.
"In my head I probably made the decision a week ago but knowing the unveiling of the statue was today and I was going to be in Melbourne I thought it was the perfect opportunity to announce my decision.
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"This is where Billy and I started our career at Olympic [AAMI] Park in 2002 so this is where I wanted to officially end it as well.
"Being a one-club player was one of the main considerations give the amount of time I've spent here.
"Given the amount of time I've spent here and what I've built with Billy, Cooper [Cronk], Ryan Hoffman, Jesse Bromwich ... all these guys who have put a lot of effort to build the Storm as an organisation.
"I still remember as a rookie I always had a thought I wanted to be a one-club player. Sometimes those choices are taken away from you but thankfully in my situation I've been able to do that for 18-19 seasons."
He added he would not be able to attend the Storm's stoush with Souths due to his daughter's birthday but would be back in Melbourne soon to say a proper farewell to the club and the fans.
"I think I might just try and put my feet up for 12 months after being flat out for two decades," he said.
"The one thing I've realised about living in Queensland is having time to do my own thing.
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"It's been quite refreshing for me as a person, just to be able to pick and choose what I want to do on certain days."
Melbourne's long-time coach Craig Bellamy said Smith deserved to be recognised as an all-time great, potentially the best in league history.
"I think he's the greatest player I've ever seen," he said.
"For what he's done, no one has gone over 400 NRL games and 100 rep games, and the success as captain it's quite remarkable.
"I can't see it happening again. It's hard to describe his effect on our club and the game. The biggest thing is how long he's done it for.
"Hopefully we can keep Cameron around the club. If we can get him to give advice to our ruck plays and dummy half, his leadership is unparalleled."
The Storm statement described Smith as "not only among the most decorated players the game has ever seen" but someone who "made an immeasurable contribution to our club on and off the field, and his legacy will be remembered in Melbourne forever".
Statues of Smith and Slater were unveiled to honour the duo who represented Melbourne, Queensland and Australia with distinction. Slater retired after the 2018 grand final loss to the Roosters.
Slater said Smith was the most influential player he had seen.
"Only Cam knows it's the right one [decision to retire now]. Everyone's had their opinion but you've got to get it right. You can't retire for eight months and then come back and play at 38," the retired fullback said.
"I think it's a celebration now. I still remember when we were 18 and Cameron got the call to come to Melbourne and debut.
"I don't know of a more influential player to have played the game ... I feel privileged he's standing next to me announcing it."
Melbourne have Brandon Smith and injured young gun Harry Grant filling his role this season while Brisbane and the Gold Coast had been viewed as potential landing spots for the former Kangaroos captain if he were to go around again in 2021.
"It would've been strange for me to watch him in another jumper but that's obviously not going to happen [now]," Bellamy said.
"At the same time, I still would've been his number one supporter even if he was playing against us."
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Storm chairman Matthew Tripp said Smith would be remembered as the greatest Storm player of all time.
"Cameron is a once-in-a-generation footballer and role model, not only for all Storm and NRL players now and in the future, but for all sports men and women," Tripp said.
"There is no doubt that without Cameron at the Storm, we wouldn’t have experienced the outstanding level of success that we have over his time at the club.
"He has a list of achievements that will be almost impossible to match.
"Not only has he been the most influential player in the game over the past two decades, but he is arguably the greatest player of all time and has become a household name throughout our home city of Melbourne and home state of Victoria."
Rugby League Players' Association CEO Clint Newton said Smith's on-field efforts were amazing but also paid tribute to his work behind the scenes.
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"People are generally aware of his on-field achievements, but the critical role he chose to play for his fellow players by passionately and professionally representing the collective is mostly unknown to the public," he said.
"Cam has been at the forefront of our Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations in the past, culminating in his appointment as RLPA general president in 2017.
"He has been the ultimate professional and ruthlessly competitive, which is no doubt why he has been able to compete at the highest level for almost two decades and positioning him perfectly for life away from professional rugby league."
Cameron Smith - a brilliant career
Born: June 18, 1983, Brisbane, Qld
Junior Club: Logan Brothers
Rep Honours: 56 Tests Australia (2006-17), World Cup (2008, 2013, 2017), Four Nations (2009-11, 2014, 2016); 42 games Queensland (2003-17)
Club & First Grade Debut: v Canterbury, Olympic Park, 13/04/2002 (Rd 5)
Games as captain: 320
Awards & Accolades
Golden Boot Award: 2007, 2017
Dally M Player Of The Year: 2006, 2007
Dally M Hooker Of The Year: 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020
Dally M Captain Of The Year: 2011, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019
Dally M Representative Player Of The Year: 2007, 2011, 2013, 2016
Wally Lewis Medal: 2007, 2011, 2013, 2016
Ron McAuliffe Medal: 2005, 2007, 2013, 2015
RLIF Hooker Of The Year: 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012
RFIL Player Of The Year: 2012
Harry Sunderland Medal: 2014
Round 1 hype - Storm v Rabbitohs
Test Matches for Australia: 56 Games, (49-6-1), W/L: 87.50%. Points: 170. Goals: 67
World Cup Matches for Australia: 17 Games, (16-1), W/L: 94.12%. Goals: 29. Points: 62
Origin Games for Queensland: 42 Games (26-16), W/L: 61.90%. Points: 58. Goals: 19.
NRL All stars: 4 Games, (2-2), W/L: 50.00%. Goals: 1. Points: 2
NRL matches for Melbourne Storm: Games 430 (310-118-2), W/L: 72.09%
Tries: 48. Goals: 1295 (75.38%). Points: 2786.
Debut: Round April 13th, 2002. Round 5 at Olympic Park. Attendance: 8929
Storm vs Bulldogs, L: 6-22
First Win: Round 6 at Olympic Park. Storm vs St George Illawarra, W: 12-4. Attendance: 8203