Storm's ‘Old man’ plans to play 80 minutes every week
QUEENSLAND legend Cameron Smith doesn't plan to be benched this year and insists he isn't on the slide after becoming the NRL's oldest player ahead of a record 19th season.
Smith will make his 412th NRL appearance when the Melbourne Storm begin their 2020 campaign against Manly on Sunday week.
The Storm skipper became the first player in NRL history to celebrate the incredible 400-game milestone last year and played all 27 matches as Melbourne reached the preliminary finals.
Smith has had an unfathomable career since making his debut in 2002, playing 31,655 minutes - the equivalent of 527 hours, or 22 days straight - of NRL action.
He has made 15,146 tackles in the NRL alone, and scored 2602 points.
Smith will celebrate his 37th birthday in June and is the oldest player in the league following the retirement of Paul Gallen, who turned 38 in his final season last year.
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy plans to manage Smith's workload in 2020, but the former Maroons and Kangaroos captain says he still wants to play 80 minutes every week.
"I can't see any reason why (I can't keep going)," Smith said in his first interview of the year.
"There's already been a lot of questions about my involvement in the team this year and my role, and whether there's going to be less minutes played and games off here and there.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm up for 80 minutes every game. Whether the coach sees it that way or not, I'm not too sure, but that's where my headspace is at.
"That's why I trained as hard as I did in the preseason, to get myself ready for 80 minutes over the course of the season.
"We'll have to see how we're travelling and where we are match-by-match and throughout the season.
"If there are opportunities to rest players, not only myself but guys like Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane and Nelson Asofa-Solomona ... I think we played every game for the club last year or thereabouts.
"That might be an area the coaches need to look at, but that really depends on where we're at, where we're positioned, and if we can afford to do that."
Smith made his debut for Melbourne as an 18-year-old and has played at least 20 NRL games in every season since 2003.
His longevity is unmatched in the NRL, with the tireless hooker also boasting 56 Test appearances for the Kangaroos and a record 42 State of Origin games for Queensland.
In January last year, Smith signed a two-year contract with the Storm to play until the end of the 2020 season.
But he floated the prospect of retiring after last year's preliminary final loss to the Roosters as the toll of criticism made him question his future.
Smith confirmed in November that he would play in 2020 and made his first appearance of the season in Melbourne's trial win against North Queensland last Saturday.
After an extended off-season, Smith said his love for the game had not diminished.
"Absolutely, the reason I play the game is because I love it," he said.
"I've loved it since I was a really young fella and nothing has changed at all.
"To be honest, the love never diminishes. But it always helps when you have younger players coming through and they show their renewed energy towards the game and team.
"The style of footy they play ... there's different footballers now to when I first started. To see the ideas they have and the way they play and go about things, it always gives you a new energy.
"Looking back on the 25 minutes in the trial, it was really fun, I really enjoyed it. I was out there with a big smile on my face, I was having a laugh, being out there playing footy with my mates.
"The most important thing for me now, being 36, is that I enjoy my footy and when I'm doing that is when I play my best."
Smith has played in seven grand finals throughout an incredibly successful NRL career.
The Storm have won three of the past four minor premierships, and finished second in 2018, but have only gone on to win one grand final (2017) during that run.
They finished on top last year before stumbling in the finals and losing to eventual premiers the Roosters in the grand final qualifier.
Smith said the Storm had learnt from their mistakes last year and were well prepared to make amends in 2020.
"It would be lovely to replicate what we did in the regular season but then go on with it in the finals," he said.
"We got a couple of little things wrong heading into the finals and didn't position ourselves well to take advantage of a really good regular season.
"We've done a pretty extensive review of what 2019 looked like for us and what we could have done better and what we want to maintain.
"I'd like to think what we've put into practice over the preseason has put us in a really good position.
"The preseason form has been great. I'd like to think we're going to be pretty competitive again."
Watch the 2020 NRL Telstra Premiership on KAYO. Every game of every round LIVE & Ad-Break Free during play. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >