The man who dominated an era
HE didn't have the ball skills of Wally Lewis, the elusiveness of Allan Langer, the speed of Darren Lockyer or the intimidation factor of Mal Meninga.
But when he stepped down from representative football on Tuesday, Cameron Smith had climbed as high on the rugby league pedestal as anyone who has played the game.
From the day that his name was first read out by Maroons chairman of selectors Gene Miles for Game Three, 2003, Smith has been exceeding expectations, developing from a virtual unknown to securing his place among the greats.
And he has done it not by dominating in one phase of the game, but by mastering many; in cricket terms, he is the ultimate all-rounder.
When Smith made his Origin debut, the Queensland hooking role was proving a giant headache.
Following the retirement of Jason Hetherington and a long-term injury to PJ Marsh, selectors had been forced to play the likes of halfback Paul Green and backrowers Kevin Campion and Mick Crocker out of position in the hope a long-term solution would present itself.
In Cameron Smith it did, and how.
The 2003 series already lost, with some desperation Miles and his fellow selectors decided it was time to experiment with new blood.
Smith, a Logan Brothers junior, had scored 188 points for Norths Devils in the 2001 Queensland Cup before being called up by Melbourne, but he was hardly a household name.
In fact, when picked for the Maroons he had started only 14 times at hooker for the Storm.
When the team was announced, for many it was a case of "Cameron Who?"
After full-time of Queensland's 36-6 win, no one would ever ask that question again, with Smith scoring a try, pulling off 35 tackles and earning the Maroons' Players' Player award.
Smith would miss just one match for the Maroons over the next 14 seasons, amass a record 42 games, play in 11 winning series - six as captain - and provide the glue for the most dominant period in Origin history.
His partnership with Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and, after Lockyer's retirement, Cooper Cronk, at Origin and Test level is the stuff of which league legends are made.
His induction as an Immortal when his playing days are over would seem a formality, but that is still a few years in the future.
More pressing for Origin coach Kevin Walters right now is how to replace his champion No.9.
The short answer? He can't.
As Storm coach Craig Bellamy found when Smith was suspended for the Storm's 2008 40-nil grand final loss to Manly, his influence is such that his place can't be filled by simply tossing his jersey to the next player in line and saying, "off you go".
Smith is five players in one. He is the captain, the goal-kicker, the playmaker, the defensive rock, the cool-head in tight situations.
His critics (those not supporting Melbourne or Queensland) would suggest that he is also the referee but that is a matter of opinion.
What can't be denied is that he is a winner.
After his 2017 season, there were some who went so far as to describe it as the most successful year ever by any athlete in any sport.
No doubt those who class rugby league as a small-time sport played in a mere handful of countries would disagree, but even so it was some year.
Over the course of the season Smith led the Maroons to the Origin series, earning man of the match in the deciding Game Three, captained Australian to the World Cup and Melbourne to the NRL premiership, was Dally M player of the year and took out the international Golden Boot award as best player in the world.
How can a player like that possibly be replaced, you ask?
With difficulty, but rest assured of one thing. It will happen.
We asked the same question when King Wally hung up the boots, and Alfie and Big Mal and Locky.
Then along came JT and Billy the Kid and GI, and yes, Cam Smith.
All different, all magnificent.
That is the beauty of sport. There is always another champion coming along. They don't stay forever, but they leave such indelible memories and unforgettable legacies.
And, like we did with Cameron Smith, we just have to enjoy them while we can.