This is the interview I did with Cameron Smith when I broke the news to him that he had been crowned the world’s best player, by winning the Rugby League World Golden Boot in 2007.
CAMERON SMITH is the winner of the 2007 Rugby League World Golden Boot award.
The Melbourne, Queensland and Australia hooker follows in the footsteps of Australian greats Wally Lewis, Brett Kenny, Peter Sterling, Mal Meninga, Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer in picking up the prestigious award, given to the world’s best performer over the course of a year.
Smith has enjoyed remarkable success in 2007, captaining Melbourne Storm to the NRL Premiership. He also helped Queensland win the State of Origin series, picking up the player of the series award and he played in two Test matches for Australia over New Zealand, with his side winning both.
“I’m quite shocked actually,” a delighted Smith told Rugby League World. “It’s capped off a great year and I’m made up to have won it.
“If you’d told me at the start of the season what sort of year I’d have, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s been an quite incredible year and I’m fortunate to be at a club with such a great coach and players. Look at all the talent in the Queensland and Australia teams as well. It’s a season I will remember for the ret of my life.”
The motivation for such a successful season, as Smith readily admits, came in the 2006 Grand Final when the Storm, on the wrong end of some dubious refereeing calls, were beaten by Brisbane Broncos.
“That loss was always in the back of our minds and the disappointment was always there right up to us winning it this year. Losing to Brisbane is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced and I’ll never forget it.
“But full credit to the boys because this year could have been very tough if we hadn’t reacted in the right way.
“We spoke about it in pre-season and we said that we wouldn’t talk about it too much during the year but we wanted to be hungry for a Grand Final win and we were. Our coach, Craig Bellamy, was worried at first that we’d be scarred by that loss but not once did any player show that mentality.
“All of the 2006 Grand Final negativity was properly channelled into getting things right this year.”
The Storm didn’t experience many hiccups throughout the year, staying at the top throughout the season but Smith admits that toward the end of the regular season, a few of the players weren’t enjoying their football.
“A fan wrote in to Craig and highlighted this. He said that we were just going through the motions and we looked a bit frustrated. Craig read the letter out to us and the guy was right. We addressed it and we put things right. From that point, we scored a lot of points and that bloke’s letter was a real turning point.”
Under Smith’s captaincy and with him in top form, the Storm thrashed Brisbane in the semi-finals to avenge the 2006 Grand Final loss. They beat Parramatta by 16 points and hammered Manly in the final.
“We were still riding a wave of good performances coming into that semi-final against Brisbane and, given the opposition, it wasn’t hard to get up for that game. We wanted to knock the Broncos out of the comp and we did it in great style.
“Then we beat Parramatta to set up the Grand Final against Manly.
“Obviously, we’d been to a final before and we knew what to expect and that gave us an advantage. We changed out preparations in the week building up to the final and we were a lot better for it.
“We’d only played Manly once losing by a point but we were confident going into the final. We had a harder semi-final against Parramatta than they did against the Cowboys and they were probably a bit under-done. We ended up winning 34-8.
“I’ve played Tests and Origin but winning the Grand Final is the big one. It’s what you play for every week so it was the highlight of my career.”
If winning a Premiership ring was the year’s high point for Smith, then collecting the Wally Lewis medal for being the outstanding individual in the State of Origin series, after he had helped Queensland regain their Shield, should come a close second.
“The Origin series was fantastic. And it’s great for us to have Mal Meninga in charge of us.
“Under him we won the series in 2006, which was Queensland’s first victory since 2001. But we discussed the fact that that would count for very little if we couldn’t back it up this year and we showed what a good team we have this year by wrapping it up in two games.
“Winning the Wally Lewis medal was a real honour although a couple of our front-rowers – Steve Price and Petero Civoniceva – also deserved it. It was amazing to win an award named after such a legend and to pick it up in front of our fans in Queensland was just fantastic.”
Smith also played twice for Australia, wresting the number 9 jersey from Newcastle hooker Danny Buderus. In both games, New Zealand were the opposition with the green and golds winning 30-6 in April and 58-0 in October with Smith scoring a try and six goals in the latter. Smith captained Australia in that Wellington rout, standing in for the injured Darren Lockyer.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d get the ANZAC Test jumper because of Danny Buderus but fortunately I got the nod in front of him. Then, at the end of the year, to be named captain was very humbling. To lead that team out was a huge honour and the performance of the side was magnificent. It was a record win over them and it’s always great to be part of history!”
Aged just 23, Smith has plenty of time on his side to create a lot more history.
1990 Golden Boot winner Mal Meninga told Rugby League World that Cameron Smith fully deserves to pick up this year’s award.
Meninga is Smith’s Queensland coach and the pair masterminded a 2-1 series win over New South Wales this year.
“The Golden Boot is a fantastic award to win and Cameron thoroughly deserves it this year,” said Meninga.
“He’s had a stellar year for club, state and country, playing so well as captain.
“In the Origin series, he just grew an extra leg for us. He brought a lot of confidence into the state team, given how well he was already playing for Melbourne. He’s such a good player that we don’t try to change anything about him when he comes into camp.
“He was one of the best players in each of the games. Then he wins a Grand Final and captains his country.
“You just can’t wish for a better year.”
The Golden Boot was decided by a panel of 14 which included past players, journalists and fans’ votes via two websites. Each panellist nominated three players from a shortlist of six. Their first choice scored three points, their second choice scored two and their third choice player scored one point.
Roy Asotasi (Souths & New Zealand)
Gareth Ellis (Leeds & Great Britain)
Jamie Peacock (Leeds & Great Britain)
Steve Price (NZ Warriors, Queensland & Australia)
Cameron Smith (Melbourne, Queensland & Australia)
Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland, Queensland & Australia)
This is how the votes were cast:
Peter Sterling (Ex-Australia international & Channel Nine commentator)
1. Cameron Smith, 2. Roy Asotasi, 3. Johnathan Thurston
Garry Schofield (Ex-Great Britain international)
1. Cameron Smith, 2. Jamie Peacock, 3. Johnathan Thurston
Hugh McGahan (Ex-New Zealand international)
1. Johnathan Thurston, 2. Cameron Smith, 3. Steve Price
Mike Stephenson (Ex-Great Britain international & Sky Sports commentator)
1. Gareth Ellis, 2. Jamie Peacock, 3. Roy Asotasi
Richard de la Rivière (Rugby League World)
1. Cameron Smith, 2. Steve Price, 3. Gareth Ellis
Martyn Sadler (League Express)
1. Steve Price, 2. Cameron Smith, 3. Jamie Peacock
Martin Lenehan (Rugby League Week magazine, Australia)
1. Cameron Smith, 2. Johnathan Thurston, 3. Jamie Peacock
Nigel Wall (Big League magazine, Australia)
1. Steve Price, 2. Johnathan Thurston, 3. Jamie Peacock
Robin Smith (Super League magazine, New Zealand)
1. Jamie Peacock, 2. Cameron Smith, 3. Steve Price
Malcolm Andrews (League Express)
1. Johnathan Thurston, 2. Steve Price, 3. Jamie Peacock
Ian Laybourn (Press Association)
1. Cameron Smith, 2. Jamie Peacock, 3. Roy Asotasi
Steve Mascord (Sydney Daily Telegraph)
1. Johnathan Thurston, 2. Cameron Smith, 3. Jamie Peacock
Total Rugby League Website fans vote
1. Jamie Peacock, 2. Cameron Smith, 3. Gareth Ellis
League Unlimited Website fans vote
1. Cameron Smith, 2. Steve Price, 3. Jamie Peacock
Cameron Smith 28 votes
Jamie Peacock 18
Johnathan Thurston 15
Steve Price 14
Gareth Ellis 5
Roy Asotasi 4