Criticism of birthday boy Cameron Smith is getting as old as the player himself, according to Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy.
Turning 37, Smith had a low-key celebration at Storm training on Thursday with Bellamy joking his captain wouldn’t be fit enough to blow out so many candles.
But the coach himself doused fresh claims his veteran hooker wields too much sway over referees.
“Cameron is used to it but it’s funny that the criticism comes from people who haven’t played the game, haven’t coached the game or been involved in a footy club and they’re experts,” Bellamy said on Thursday.
“Cameron’s played over 400 NRL games and nearly 50 Origins and so many for Australia but those people come out and bag him all the time; it doesn’t really add up for me.
“Some people might listen to it but I’m not interested.
“I think there should be a lot more respect.”
Bellamy said statistics proved that Smith didn’t gain any extra influence over referee Ben Cummins in their last-round win over Newcastle.
“We had six six-agains against us and one for us and our opposition Newcastle had 27 slow play-the-balls and we had 42 so I can’t understand that.
“The referees have got no problems with what we’re doing.”
Bellamy said the Storm won’t give 416-game veteran Smith a deadline to decide whether to play on for a 20th season in 2021, particularly while he is still at the top of his game.
The club is adamant that rising star hooker Harry Grant, who has been hugely impressive while on loan to Wests Tigers, will return next season regardless of Smith’s decision.
“People were writing (Smith) off two or three weeks ago but he showed on the weekend that was premature,” Bellamy said.
“The first couple of games we weren’t at our best so it’s always hard for your dummy half when you’re not getting that go forward but but the last couple of weeks he doesn’t look like he’s slowed down at all.”
Melbourne face Penrith on Friday night at Bankwest Stadium, when Bellamy will be keeping his eye on another hooker in Panthers ace Api Koroisau, saying the Panthers were a bigger threat since his arrival from Manly.
“He’s a very clever player and a lot of their improvement has come with Api so we will need to keep our eye on him tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, injured halfback Jahrome Hughes could return to dislodge Ryley Jacks after being named in their travelling squad.