Wayne Bennett has insisted it was Cameron Smith who snubbed the Brisbane Broncos two decades ago and not the other way around.
Bennett was asked about Smith’s career after the NRL legend announced his retirement on Wednesday following 430 games and winning every trophy on offer.
Bennett coached Smith fives times when the hooker was playing for Queensland or the NRL All Stars, he described the Melbourne Storm veteran as “wonderful” to coach.
Smith grew up a diehard Broncos fan and wanted to play for the club but he claims they weren’t interested.
Bennett was coaching Brisbane at the time and rejected Smith’s account on Wednesday.
“Cyril Connell (Queensland great and former Broncos recruitment guru) saw him play first, I saw him play and under 17s game and he wasn’t playing hooker at the time,” Bennett said.
“He came to Broncos, his father came, his manager came and it was myself and Cyril in the room.
“We made him an offer but I just felt he didn’t want to play at the Broncos. It was a good offer but the bottom line was he made a choice to go to Melbourne.
“It was his choice, as I said we wanted him there but he didn’t think it suited him for whatever reason and that’s fine.
“It wasn’t a poor decision by us, he just didn’t want to play there for whatever reason.
”That’s just the way it works.”
Smith’s decision to join Melbourne in 2002 was a sliding doors moment for both player and coach, who would go on to create unbeatable records on their own but combine powers only five times in almost 20 years.
Bennett also handed 20-year-old Smith his Queensland debut in 2003 – the first of an incredible 42 Origin matches.
And while Bennett is typically frugal in excitement and sparing with his praise, he marked Smith’s retirement on Wednesday after 430 NRL games as an incredible achievement that defies logic.
Remarkably, Smith missed just 15 games through injury or suspension across his entire career.
“I was never more relaxed in the coach’s box than when he was playing for me,” Bennett said.
“And I mean that, he was wonderful.
“I had him in a couple of All Stars games and he just made it so much easier.
“He had a great career and whether he’s the greatest player of all time, who knows, but he’s certainly got a record there that will take some beating.
“His durability, it was incredible.
“For the position that he played, the number of games that he didn’t play was very few.
“He just had a great ability to position his body in places where he never got himself into a risk of injury.
“He did it year after year and kept defying all the logic that goes with the position that he plays.”
It’s a point contested by Bennett that the Broncos’ inability to sign Smith as a teenager was a huge mistake, but the South Sydney coach maintains the club tried – the player just wasn’t interested.
Smith has long maintained the Broncos overlooked him as a junior that drove him into Melbourne’s arms as a scorned teen.
Either way, the two shared a long history as adversaries with mutual respect – and the occasional allies.
While full of praise for the man himself, Bennett stopped short of anointing him the best player he’s ever seen.
“That’s bar room talk, mate,” he said.
“That’s for someone on Twitter talking a whole lot of rubbish to one another.
“There’s been some wonderful players, how do you confirm who is the greatest?
“But in terms of records, he’s got a great record.”
– with AAP