Cameron Smith has done his best to say his rousing send off late in Melbourne's NRL preliminary defeat of Canberra was no farewell lap, even if it looked a lot like one.
The Storm hooker was subbed off with five minutes to go as his side progressed to next week's grand final courtesy of a 30-10 win over the Raiders.
He left the field on the opposite side to the bench at Suncorp Stadium, walking slowly and waving to the 37,000-strong crowd who slowly rose to their feet.
Smith and his teammates joined in a huddle before he was chaired off the ground by Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane, the skipper bashfully grinning as Melbourne players showered him with sports drinks.
The 37-year-old has remained tight-lipped about his future, with the 2020 decider potentially shaping as the fairytale send-off after 19 seasons at the top.
Smith did his best to laugh off suggestions that Friday's theatrics were a goodbye to his Queensland fans.
"I was getting half a standing ovation but I don't know why," he said.
Cameron Smith chaired off Suncorp Stadium. If he's not retiring, he's doing a good impression of a bloke who's retiring. #NRLStormRaiders
— Jon Healy (@JonHealy) October 16, 2020
There is absolutely no way Cameron Smith can retire playing this well. Still the best hooker, most influential, top 3 overall player and 4 #NRL finals in 5 years.
Even if it’s not at Melbourne, someone convince that man!
— Louis Robinson (@LouisRobinson10) October 16, 2020
Cameron Smith could easily play on for another year or two. I kind of hope he does and the whole chairing off thing was to mess with everyone 😂 The one good thing about his retirement will be the end of all the annoying speculation. #NRL
— John Dean (@JohnDean_) October 16, 2020
"It was very nice and I'm very grateful but it wasn't so much a farewell, more a relief to go to another grand final.
"The message that came out to me was just 'get off the field' because I had some carry-over points from that little tip tackle from a couple of weeks ago, so that's why I came off."
Cameron Smith, Craig Bellamy dismiss retirement speculation
Smith and coach Craig Bellamy then insisted in the post-game press conference that any decision on his future had been put to the side.
Described in commentary by former Queensland and Australian teammate Johnathan Thurston as "the greatest I've seen go around", Smith showed he still had it when he made a brilliant try-saving tackle on Raiders back Nick Cotric.
"It's just about competing and at this time of year you have to compete on every play," he said.
"If you don't put yourself in the picture you don't know hat's going to happen ... if you don't do it in these big moments ... results can go against you.
"It doesn't matter what the score is, what part of the game it is, you have to compete on every play and the harder you work sometimes luck goes your way and I got a little bit lucky tonight with getting Nick on the line."
"They're a tough side, a really gritty side and to be able to play the way we did tonight."
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