Johnathan Thurston says Cameron Smith will be the difference in the grand final. Picture. Phil Hillyard
Johnathan Thurston says Cameron Smith will be the difference in the grand final. Picture. Phil Hillyard

Thurston: Smith will win Storm grand final

CAMERON Smith will prove himself a future Immortal on Sunday 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 player 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.

Thurston rates Smith and Darren Lockyer as the best he’s played with. Picture: Gregg Porteous
Thurston rates Smith and Darren Lockyer as the best he’s played with. Picture: Gregg Porteous

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.

You very rarely see him take a wrong option.

 

Thurston has backed Cooper Cronk to take his place. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Thurston has backed Cooper Cronk to take his place. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

 

Smith's fingerprints have been all over the Storm's charge to the grand final. He has been the unmovable force that has them just a win away from another premiership.

Smith is a big game player and they don't get any bigger than this.

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

I think 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 was suffer career ended trauma of 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.