It remains to be seen whether Cameron Smith plays 400 NRL games but Immortal Mal Meninga believes the magical milestone will soon become the norm.
Ex-Test skipper Smith is on track to become the first player to shatter the 400-game barrier after agreeing to play on next year, but has left the retirement door ajar if Melbourne win Sunday night’s NRL grand final.
Experts have marvelled at the durability of 35-year-old Smith, who will contest his 18th NRL season if he agrees to play on in 2019.
While Meninga was in awe of Smith’s achievement, he believed the Storm captain was ushering in a new era in professional rugby league.
“I think we will see 400 (games) become the new 300,” Meninga told Former Origin Greats website.
“The 300-game mark was once the high-water mark for longevity in our game (but) I think over time that 400 will become the new measure.
“It is still going to be a rare and special achievement but the total professionalism of our game will see players be able to extend their careers longer and longer.
“I think Cameron represents the first of the next era – ultra professional guys who are able to look after themselves and manage their careers well into their late 30s.”
Meninga is keeping his fingers crossed Smith avoids temptation if Melbourne wins and plays on next year, saying the veteran had not lost his Midas touch.
“When I retired, I was 34 and I was considered old. It used to be that 30 was considered an expiry date,” he said.
“Now you have Cameron saying he wants to go around again next year at 36.
“And so he should – he has lost nothing as a player. When I walked away, I had nothing left to give.
“But Cameron is just so durable and resilient. The special thing about him is the fact that he continues to control the game so well.”