Last Saturday Cameron Smith played his 356th NRL game and in doing so broke the record for most NRL Games played. To recognise this momentous achievement The Sportress has declared the week ‘Cameron Smith Week’. A week-long celebration of the Melbourne Storm champ and his record we believe will last forever.
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Today we continue our ‘Camerom Smith Week’ celebrations by taking a step back in time to the year of Smith’s First Grade Debut. The unbelievable longevity of the Storm champ is brought into greater clarity when you see how much the world has changed during his time in Purple and Navy Blue.
The year was 2002, John Howard was Prime Minister of Australia, George W Bush was President of the US, Tony Blair was PM of the UK and more importantly Steve Waugh was still Australia’s Test Cricket Captain. Future Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbot were still finding their feet in Canberra while current PM Malcolm Turnbull was still 2 years from even becoming a Member of Parliament. US President Donald Trump had yet to begin his television show The Apprentice, let alone his surprising run to the White House.
With the reintroduction of South Sydney, after their 2-year exclusion from the League, the NRL was a 15 team competition. Among it’s number were the ill-advised Joint-Venture the Northern Eagles, but Manly and the Gold Coast Titans were not.
Technology was positively primitive, advancements we would now almost be unable to live without were years or decades from introduction. No Smartphones as we know them, no Google, no Facebook, no Wi-Fi or Twitter. Singles actually had to be sociable and meet each other in person because no one had even thought about such a thing as Tinder.
No smart phones meant teenagers at the turn of the century had to run the landline phone gauntlet if they actually wanted to communicate with friends. If they were successful enough to wrestle the phone off their siblings or parents they were never sure who would answer. A father was an especially daunting prospect if calling a young lady or even worse an engaged signal because the phone line was in use or was accessing the internet. Terrors the teenagers of today will never know.
On the box a number of favourites continued to entertain. Georgie Parker won the Gold Logie while her show All Saints was one of the most popular on Australian television. If your fix for Australian Drama wasn’t sated by the goings on at All Saints Western General Hospital,
you could always check out McLeod’s Daughters, Blue Heelers, The Secret Life of Us or Stingers. The Reality TV revolution was in it’s early stages with Big Brother airing its second series. Sport, like always, was watched in large numbers with the Fifa World Cup Final, AFL Grand Final, Melbourne Cup and NRL Grand Final all in the 10 most watched programs of the year. Surprisingly though, the most watched program of the year was an Eddie McGuire and Catriona Rowntree hosted show called Test Australia – The National IQ Test 2002, despite the high ratings there wasn’t a national IQ test called for the following year.
The coverage of Smith’s first season in the city he represents was incredibly different to what it is today. Friday Night Football could begin anywhere from 10.30pm to 2am the next morning, and could not be shown any earlier on Foxtel. Good luck to anyone without pay television if they wanted to watch Rugby League on Saturday, it simply wasn’t possible unless you found a League friendly pub. One brief oasis was Sunday Storm home games, which Nine would show live against the gate. A long way from today’s dedicated NRL Channel on Foxtel and the ability to watch all eight games live on TV or on mobile devices anywhere in the world. So different it is hard to believe that even at Finals time, that Rugby League fans in Melbourne would need to avoid phone calls from friends in Sydney so that they could watch a very delayed replay without knowing the score.
It was a big year at the cinema with big blockbusters Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets all wowing audiences in Australia. Pierce Brosnan made his fourth and final outing as James Bond in Die another Day, and in Goldmember we saw the last adventure of Austin Powers the other, less suave, British Superspy.
Alien Ant Farm released a rocking remake of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, Kasey Chambers sold an endless number of albums by asking “Am I not pretty enough?”. Beyond this it was a mixed year in music, Eminem’s Without Me was the biggest selling single of the year. It was joined in the top 50 sellers by such names as Anastacia, Brittany Spears, JLo, Holly Vallance, Delta Goodrem, System of a Down and Shakira. Unforgettable, or cringe-worthy, one hit wonders were The Ketchup Song by Las Ketchup and Hey Baby by DJ Otzi.
Newcastle’s Andrew Johns won the Dally M Medal, Nigel Vagana was the competition’s leading try scorer with 23 and Hazem El Masri the leading point scorer with 254. El Masri’s tally was the record haul by a player in a single season and looked likely to be more than the entire Canterbury team would score this year until very late in the season. The New Zealand Warriors would win the Minor Premiership after Canterbury were stripped 37 points for breaching the Salary Cap, while the Sydney Roosters would ultimately win the Premiership for the first time since 1975.
Of the NRL coaches in 2017, Trent Barrett, Ivan Cleary, Paul Green, Stephen Kearney,
Trent Robinson were still playing first grade in the NRL, while Jason Taylor and Paul McGregor was only in their first year of retirement. Anthony Griffen, the current Penrith Coach, was an assistant at the Storm and the man who would be a major force in Smith’s career, Craig Bellamy, was still an assistant coach under Wayne Bennett at the Brisbane Broncos.
It was within this world that Storm Coach Mark Murray chose 18 year old Cameron Smith to play halfback against Canterbury at Olympic Park. It would be an incredibly assured and confident debut that, despite only playing one more game this season, only a year later Smith would be playing State of Origin for Queensland.
A certainty to be made an Immortal of the game at some point after his retirement, Smith has been an ornament to the game and a perfect spokesperson for it in ‘hostile’ territory. Incredibly resilient Smith has only missed 6 games through injury in his time in the NRL while accumulating 356 First Grade games, 42 State of Origins and 50 Test Matches for Australia. Despite this heavy load on his body, Smith remains one of the
most influential players in the game and is favoured to win the Dally M Medal again in 2017.
So much has changed since his debut way back in 2002, but one thing has stayed constant, Cameron Smith running out in number 9 for Melbourne Storm each weekend.