NRL legend Cameron Smith has finally ended the 'will-he, won't-he' speculation and retired before the start of the 2021 season on Thursday.
Smith and former Melbourne Storm teammate Billy Slater have been honoured by a statue outside the team's AAMI Park headquarters, with the veteran hooker revealing his departure from the game.
"For me, I look back on my career and just found that I'm very fortunate to be part of an organisation with great people and footballers," he says. "It felt like the right time, after the finish to last year.
"You couldn't have asked for more than finishing with a premiership at a club I've played my whole career."
Smith,37, guided the Storm to their fourth NRL championship - his third - over Penrith Panthers last season, amid mystery over his playing future.
He was surprisingly chaired off the field, after Melbourne's semi-final demolition of Canberra Raiders at their adopted home of Suncorp Stadium and most assumed he had played his last of 433 games for the club.
Smith seemed to be leaning towards extending his career for a Queensland-based team, with Gold Coast firming as favourites, but he wasn't named for any team for the NRL's opening round this week and has now formalised his exit.
"I've been wrestling with the decision for quite some time," he says. "In the weeks after the season had finished, guys like Billy and guys I've grown quite close to... just trying to talk to them about my situation and how they came to the conclusion as to when it was the right time.
"After last year, winning the premiership, I still felt good physically and mentally. I still thought my form was good enough to play in the NRL, but after spending time with my family in Queensland, I knew it was the right time to finish.
"It's a chance to enjoy the next phase in my lief and hopefully, it's still in rugby league in some capacity.
"In my head, I probably made the decision a week ago, but knowing the unveiling was today and I was going to be in Melbourne, I thought it was a good time to announce my decision."
The Melbourne Storm club was quick to praise its stalwart for his contribution to the impressive history of the Victoria outfit, which has become on the competition's elite organisations over its short 23-year history.
"Cam is not only among the most decorated players the game has ever seen, he made an immeasurable contribution to our club, on and off the field, and his legacy will be remembered in Melbourne forever," the Storm tweets.
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