Thurston to Smith: Don’t stop now
JOHNATHAN Thurston has urged his good mate Cameron Smith to shun retirement and soldier on to become the first man in rugby league history to play 400 games.
There are fears Smith could drop another bombshell and retire at season's end, with Melbourne hierarchy insisting they will not pressure their champion skipper to play on in 2019.
Smith surprised many in May when he announced his immediate retirement from representative football on the eve of the 2018 Origin series, ultimately lost 2-1 by a Queensland side which sorely missed his leadership.
In recent times, Smith, usually the NRL's Mr Unbreakable, has shown signs of wear and tear, with the 35-year-old last week suffering a back injury he will carry into Saturday's clash against the Titans.
If anyone can relate to the career-defining decision confronting Smith, it is Thurston.
The Cowboys champion made the decision to walk away at the end of this season after undergoing shoulder surgery last year.
Thurston is just two months older than Smith but believes the Storm, Queensland and Australia captain's blessed run with injuries can see the classy hooker extend his career for another 12 months.
"Cam is playing well enough to go around again next year," said Thurston, who celebrated his testimonial match with Smith at Suncorp Stadium in February.
"He has had a couple of niggles throughout this year which he hasn't been used over his career, but when he is on the field, Cam is tearing teams apart.
"I still think Cam is playing as well as he ever has."
The Storm had initially planned for Smith to be the last-man standing from Melbourne's Big Three.
Cooper Cronk joined the Roosters this season, while fullback great Billy Slater will hang up the boots at season's end.
Smith remains off-contract, and while Melbourne have budgeted for the 379-game veteran to play on next season, Storm bosses are leaving the ball in their captain's court.
Melbourne football-operations chief Frank Ponissi hopes Smith sidestepped retirement, but said the NRL's most-capped player might delay his decision until the finals are over.
"We have absolutely no doubt that 'Smithy' is still capable of playing on next season," he said.
"We all hope that he goes around again in 2019, not just because he will become the first player to play 400 NRL games but also because of his importance at our club.
"However, ultimately we have to respect his decision on what is best for him, Barb (wife) and their kids. Cameron is very much focused on the finals so we are not expecting a decision soon."