https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/one-season-too-many-cameron-smith-storm-nrl-20180301-p4z2c3.htmlI fear playing one season too many: Smith
NRL ironman Cameron Smith has given the first hint he might not play beyond this season and chase down the mind-boggling 400-game milestone as he dreads the prospect of being remembered for going on one season too many.
On the eve of the Storm's title defence - in which they are gunning to become the first team in 25 years to win back-to-back premierships - the NRL's record games holder has given his only indication that extending a decorated career beyond a 17th top grade season is far from a formality.
The NRL statesman was widely tipped to sign an extension at Melbourne to play in 2019, to stagger the departures of the Storm's "big three", but a candid Smith cast doubt on that with a fear his powers might dim in the twilight of his career.
"I have always thought I would never stay too long," Smith said at the official launch of the NRL season on Thursday. "I don’t want to go a season too long, not play well and everyone say you should have got out.
"I would rather finish while I am still playing strong. Family is a big part of my life - a bigger part of my life than what rugby league is now. That will play a huge part in my decision about whether I play again next year.
"At the moment, in my mind, I am not clear about whether I will play next year."
A bullish Smith last year said there was no reason why he couldn't smash through rugby league's previously unthinkable 400-game barrier, having eclipsed Darren Lockyer's 356 matches during the 2017 finals series.
It would require Smith playing for another two seasons - primarily injury free - and would also help usher in Melbourne's "Generation Next" after Cooper Cronk's exit to the Roosters.
Billy Slater, who is likely to play his 300th NRL game in an opening round clash against the Bulldogs in Perth, depending on a troublesome shoulder injury, is yet to make a call on whether he will play beyond this season.
Having already announced his retirement after this season, Smith's longtime Australian and Queensland teammate Johnathan Thurston said there was no reason why the 34-year-old should call it quits soon.
"I think he could easily go around another year and I hope he does, actually," Thurston said. "I’m being selfish but I’d like to see him go on and make 400. It’s within reach but I’m sure his wife has got other ideas."
The Storm have already started their succession planning with rookie No.7 Brodie Croft expected to step into Cronk's role. Brandon Smith is tipped to be a lead contender to replace his namesake at dummy half.
Melbourne officials will be desperate to avoid losing Cronk, Slater and Smith in the space of 12 months, but the skipper said Slater's decision would have no bearing on his own plans.
"If I wasn’t to play with the Storm next year that would probably mean my retirement," Smith said. "So there’s not going to be as much speculation around my future as with Cooper. But there are always going to be questions about what I am going to do next year.
"As far as Billy’s position and whether that impacts on what I do, it doesn’t have any impact at all because I don’t know what Billy is thinking, I don’t know when he will decide what he is doing.
"He might wait until the last game of this year to decide what he is doing, like he did last year. No one knew last year until after the grand final - including the coaches and his teammates.
"If the discussion arises around my future sometime soon, and I am happy to go ahead with those discussions, I will have those discussions without knowing what Billy is doing."