Craig Bellamy has seen no signs of Cameron Smith slowing down as he enters a mind-boggling 19th season in the NRL, but the Melbourne coach will make a conscious effort to cut back the champion hooker's game time whenever possible to help preserve his mind and body.
Smith has been the only player brave enough to ignore Bellamy's order to come from the field in the past, but the Storm mentor has already informed his captain things will be different this year.
Craig Bellamy will be more ‘persuasive’ when wanting Cameron Smith to enjoy a spell during games this year.Credit:AAP
"This year I'm going to be more persuasive with that," Bellamy told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
"There have been games where we've been so far behind or so far in front I've tried to give him a rest. Most of the time I've wanted him to come off or given him the opportunity and he hasn't taken it.
"He loves playing. Sometimes when the game opens up, that's when the players have the most fun, and he wants to stay out there. He's also a bit old school and sees playing 80 minutes as a badge of honour. I can understand his mentality there. But with the interchanges now, it's not that important to play 80 minutes.
"I'll be stronger in making sure he has a rest when possible."
Storm coach Craig Bellamy.Credit:Getty Images
As he has done in past years, Bellamy gave Smith extra time to recover.
The coach stood on stage at the Dally Ms and spoke about his fears Smith could yet retire, a comment he did not back away from this week ahead of the Storm's final hit-out against North Queensland.
Smith felt under attack from certain sections of the media, and it started to wear away at him.
"I don't know how close he came, he never said to me, 'I'm going to quit', but I could tell by his body language, I just knew he was thinking about it," Bellamy said.
"The way he was talking about a couple of things, I thought 'this might be the end'.
"Even if he had made that decision, I was happy to support him whichever way.
"For what he has done for our club and for our game, and to be as good as he has been for so long – he's the first to play 400 [NRL] games – I wanted him to be happy and enjoy the rest of his life.
"He's come back in good shape. He always does. We have a younger side this year, and Cam has been giving those young blokes a lot of advice and encouragement."
There is no extra motivation for Smith to succeed this year, says Bellamy, as he plays the game "because he loves it".
"That's the only reason he plays," Bellamy said. "I haven't seen anything in this pre-season where he's slowed down or lost interest or not looked a skillful or quick – he's never been the quickest, but he's quick between the ears – I haven't seen anything like that at all."
Smith's understudy, Brandon Smith, fractured his cheekbone within minutes of taking the field in a man-of-the-match performance in last weekend's All Stars game while Harry Grant, who is keen to gain a release and join the Wests Tigers, is another young rake with immense promise.
The swap deal between Grant and the Tigers' Paul Momirovski was shut down by the NRL and despite Grant's push to head north, Bellamy has no interest in cutting him loose unless an exchange is given the green light.
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