Cameron Smith still shouldering the load
RUGBY LEAGUE: Cameron Smith shrugs his shoulders that are no bigger than those of the average man in the street.
We're sitting inside the Melbourne Storm sheds and I'm searching for the secret to his incredible longevity in rugby league.
He's 34 years of age and played 355 club games, 42 Origins, 50 Tests and four All Stars matches across 15 seasons with the Melbourne Storm.
Smith is a champion who started in 2002 and has gone to war at just 89kg, regularly throwing his body in front of monsters such as Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita, Junior Paulo, Josh Papalii, Sam Burgess and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
"Have a look at me," he says, shrugging his shoulders, "I don't know how I've done it.
"You look at some blokes built like brick s***houses and they get injuries all the time.
"I've been very lucky avoiding injuries. For some reason I just keep getting up every week."
It's all the more remarkable in that he plays 80 minutes in the middle of the action and wouldn't know where to even find the interchange bench like most forwards these days.
You could understand if he was built more like an athlete and not an accountant.
He's not into all the energy foods, supplements or protein shakes.
"I'm just a meat-and- three-vegies bloke," he says. "Cereal for breakfast, probably Weet-Bix. I love a coffee - a few a day.
"I'll have a salad for lunch and a steak and vegetable for dinner. It's a very normal diet.
"Maybe a couple of bickies and a cup of tea before I go to bed at night.
"I just eat what I like. And what makes me feel good."
More likely the secret to his endurance is his work ethic.
The way he throws himself into training and his game preparation is a lesson to every youngster starting out in football.
"I need to make sure my body's conditioned for the rigours of my position," he says.
"Whatever I'm doing - whether it's weights, running or anything - I try to train as hard as the game's going to be on the weekend. I've always done that. There are no shortcuts.
"You've also got to give our high-performance staff a lot of the credit.
"We've got three full-time physios. A great medical staff. Trainers, everything is so professional. (Coach) Craig (Bellamy) wouldn't have it any other way."
Unlike most players at his age, Smith still has no set retirement date.
This weekend he breaks Darren Lockyer's games record, but he might obliterate it by the time he is finished.
He is contracted to the Melbourne Storm until the end of next season.
Again he shrugs his shoulders when asked the question of how much gas is left in his body and how long he will keep going.
"Definitely next year when my contract runs out and hopefully 2019 as well," he says. "For me, age is just a number.
"I've never wanted to outstay my welcome but if I'm playing good and feel well I'll keep going.
"And if I can help my team mates be better players, that's what's the motivation.
"I just love footy and have since I was six years old and that love has never disappeared.
"I've seen guys where you can tell their head is not in the game any more and they're just turning up to get their pay at the end of the month. That won't be me."
Arguably the greatest footballer of all time, Smith is solely focused on finals football.
Another premiership means more than personal milestones.
It's almost a waste of time asking him about life after football, although you can just about guarantee that for his all his footy knowledge and expertise, he doesn't fancy becoming the next Craig Bellamy.
"Maybe specialist coaching but nothing like a head coach," he says. "The time Craig and all his assistants put in is amazing.
"Maybe I'll do some media. I've had a few years at Fox Sports and I enjoy talking about the game.
"Whether it's commentary or doing the show you're on, NRL 360.
"I enjoy sharing my knowledge with the fans and the public, especially while I'm still playing and can give them a bit of an insight into the state of the game or what happened during a match."
When it's all over Smith will definitely stay in Melbourne. He and the family are much happier than back in 2014 when he was on the verge of heading home to Brisbane and signing with the Broncos.
"I can't see myself ever leaving here now," he says.
"My little fella plays AFL. The family is pretty settled. I love supporting Hawthorn. And Melbourne Storm is part of our family.
"In my gut I always knew I wanted to stay and be a one-club player more than anything else."