Christian Welch has warned Cameron Smith's legacy may be lost amid the "embarrassing" criticism he cops with his future to again dominate grand final week.
Smith continues to pour cold water on any imminent announcement over his retirement, despite appearing to farewell Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
Melbourne's 30-10 romping of Canberra set up the chance for the 37-year-old to bow out a winner, in what will be the Storm's fourth NRL grand final in five seasons.
For a second, at least, on Friday night it looked as if Smith had told teammates his 19th season would be his last in the NRL.
He was chaired off by teammates, having already made a point to thank the 37,000 strong crowd as he ran off when interchanged late.
But Smith insists he hasn't yet made the call, perhaps creatively claiming coach Craig Bellamy had manufactured a photo opportunity in case he never again plays at the stadium.
When the former Queensland and Australian captain does retire he'll do it with a stack of records and a clean off-field sheet, but has routinely earned the ire from some quarters for his on-field gamesmanship.
Even choosing to delay his retirement announcement has attracted heat and Welch says "we'll regret it in years to come."
"I get embarrassed how he's treated in the media, particularly in New South Wales," Welch told AAP.
"I think it's an embarrassment to one of the great statesmen of our game.
"You look at our code and the amount of scandals we have and, to be honest, there's not that many ideal role models - I'm one of them, stuffing up (with a COVID-19 protocol breach).
"But for 19 years he's been a great role model for our game and young kids playing rugby league.
"And I'm just so disappointed the way he's been treated and I think we'll regret it in years to come once he's long retired."
Melbourne did receive some good news on Saturday, with centre Brenko Lee avoiding a charge for a high tackle.
Smith's namesake Brandon has also been cleared of facial fractures after undergoing scans on Saturday, leaving him fit to face the winner of Penrith and South Sydney.
Regardless though, they know the veteran No.9 will dominate the headlines in the lead up to his 430th NRL match.
But Welch joked his unfazed captain would "just be getting by the pool, tanning up and getting ready for a big game."
Smith steered the Storm to NRL grand final triumphs in 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2017, although the first two titles were later stripped for salary-cap breaches.
He has also played in grand final losses in 2006, 2016 and 2018, with Melbourne out to avoid a third defeat in a decider in five years next weekend.
"(That) was our eighth prelim in 10 years; it's a pretty special effort and do we know how many grand finals? Plenty," Smith said.
"We've been in every second grand final for the last 10 years.
"Some judge success with winning a grand final; I'm just proud of how this footy side just seems to front up every year."