The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - 2018 GRAND FINAL - JOHNATHAN HAN THURSTON ON

CAMERON Smith will prove him­self a fu­ture Im­mor­tal to­day by lead­ing the Mel­bourne Storm to an­other NRL premier­ship.

That is my pre­dic­tion at least.

While all the talk has been about Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater this week, the player I ex­pect to have most in­flu­ence on the grand fi­nal has man­aged to go un­der the radar.

And make no mis­take, Smith will be the most im­por­tant player on the field.

I re­gard Smith as the great­est player of his gen­er­a­tion. I rate him along­side Darren Lock­yer as the best I have ever played with or against.

I never thought I would lose when Lock­yer was in my team. It didn’t mat­ter what the score­board said. It didn’t mat­ter how far be­hind we were. When Locky was along­side me I al­ways thought we would win.

It is the same when Cameron Smith is in your side.

Smith is the calmest play- er I have ever known. He never gets rat­tled and al­ways has a plan.

Lock­yer used to play rugby league think­ing four or five sets ahead. Smith plays think­ing eight sets ahead. He maps out the game in his head and has the lead­er­ship and skill to ex­e­cute his plan.

Ev­ery­one loves play­ing with Cameron Smith. And it isn’t just his lead­er­ship. Smith does a lot of the hard work that few peo­ple see, the un­fash­ion­able stuff that few are will­ing to do, but the stuff that needs to be done.

He is al­ways the third man into a tackle. He is al­ways the player who takes the ball-car­rier to the ground. Smith is also a master at slow­ing down the ruck.

These are the qual­i­ties make him the best de­fen­sive player in rugby league. With the ball in his hand, Smith has re­de­fined the role of a No.9.

He was the first hooker to play like a half, both cre­at­ing and con­trol­ling shape.

Smith has dic­tated the at­tack of all the teams he has played for. He is the one pick­ing up the run­ners and send­ing them on their way.

Most hook­ers play like this now – but be­fore Smithy, all the at­tack came off the halves.

Smith is smart, his foot­ball brain un­matched.

He knows how to swing mo­men­tum and come up with the right play at the right time.

The only per­son that may be able to stop Smith is Cooper Cronk, should he play.

He is the only player the Roost­ers have that can match it with Smith for poise, lead­er­ship, and the abil­ity to come up with the right play at the right time.

Per­son­ally, I think Cronk will play.

This is the game he was brought to the Roost­ers to win and it will take a hell of a lot to keep him out.

I played the ma­jor­ity of State of Ori­gin II in 2017 with three of my shoul­der ten­dons snapped through. It was bloody aw­ful but adren­a­line got me through.

We don’t know the ex­tent of Cronk’s in­jury but I am sure he will play un­less he is at risk of suf­fer­ing fur­ther in­jury.

I asked to put my oper­a­tion off so I could play in Ori­gin III but was told I would suf­fer ca­reer-end­ing trauma if I did.

Only a sim­i­lar di­ag­no­sis will keep Cronk out.

Ei­ther way I am still tip­ping Mel­bourne to win. And it will be Cameron Smith who gets them home in a de­fen­sive war that will go down to the wire.

Storm skip­per Cameron Smith. Pic­ture: Phil Hill­yard

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