The guessing game over Cameron Smith’s future looks set to continue for at least another week after Melbourne overpowered Canberra 30-10 to become the first team to book a 2020 NRL grand final berth.
The evergreen Smith, 37, was chaired off Suncorp Stadium by teammates on Friday night after the preliminary final victory in what appeared to be an indication that he may have finally decided to draw the curtain on his glittering 19-season career this year.
However, the 37-year-old’s future remained up in the air after the Storm qualified for their fourth season decider in five years thanks to a whirlwind start despite the stage being set for a grand final fairytale.
“I can’t tell you, I don’t know,” Smith said of his future.
“All I have worried about this year is trying to play well, just enjoy watching these young fellas grow as footballers and men – I am enjoying their success, their journey.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy also didn’t give much away despite being the brainchild behind Smith being chaired off.
“I just thought it would be a good idea in case it was his last game at Suncorp,” he said.
Smith’s next move may be a mystery but there is no doubt over the Storm’s title credentials after blowing away Canberra early.
Halfback Jahrome Hughes was inspirational as Melbourne raced to a point a minute 24-0 lead and the Raiders never recovered, ensuring their 26-year title drought continues.
Hughes set up three tries as Melbourne snapped Canberra’s five-game winning run and sealed their 20th straight win in Queensland in front of 37,112 fans.
The Raiders cut the halftime deficit to 24-6 but their dream of booking back to back grand finals ultimately came unstuck at their bogey venue Suncorp Stadium where they have not won since 2010.
In contrast 429-gamer Smith added another fond memory in his record equalling 27th finals win, pulling off a 66th minute try saving tackle on Nick Cotric.
Melbourne sealed the match when comeback king Dale Finucane – in his first game since August after battling a calf complaint – scored to blow the scoreline out to 30-6 in the 63rd minute.
“We have just got on with what we have had to do in a situation we have been in – I am real proud of them,” Bellamy said of the Storm, who have been based on the Sunshine Coast since late June.
Canberra had also overcome plenty of obstacles to be the first fifth-placed team under the new finals format to make a grand final decider.
They had been hit hard by injury and spent around 50 hours in transit since the competition’s resumption in May.
But in the end Melbourne – fresh from a week off – proved too big an obstacle following a blistering start.
The Storm raced to a 16-0 lead before many had taken their seats, running in three tries in the first 10 minutes with up to 10,000 fans still trying to get into the venue due to a ticket system glitch.
Meanwhile, Melbourne’s Brenko Lee was placed on report for a 58th minute high shot on winger Semi Valemei and Canberra’s Hudson Young may be in trouble for a 38th minute suspected crusher tackle on Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.
Storm hooker Brandon Smith suffered a first half facial injury.