Melbourne’s success over the past 15 years has largely been attributed to the Big Three – or Big Four if you include coach Craig Bellamy.
Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater combined to create the most ruthless rugby league machine seen this century. Of the trio, Smith is the only one still playing – or at least he did this season, but says he doesn’t know whether he’ll continue in 2021.
His footy smarts, meticulous preparation and incredible run with injury have facilitated Smith’s longevity but something far more important has been synonymous with his 19 seasons in first grade – his wife Barb.
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The two met in grade eight at high school in Queensland, started dating a couple of years later and have been together ever since, marrying in 2011 and raising three children.
As the Storm captain reveals in his book, The Storm Within, Barb’s first taste of romance with the boy from Logan came via an invitation to watch Smith from the sideline in an under-17s semi-final. Talk about being swept off her feet!
Rugby league was part of their life from that very first date, setting the tone for the next two decades. In that time Smith has achieved everything in the game, but Superman himself knows it wouldn’t have been possible without the love of his life by his side.
As Smith details in his autobiography, Barb was there to support him when he was banned from the 2008 Grand Final, when he hit rock bottom during the Storm’s salary cap scandal, when he was weighing up retiring from rep footy and when he was painted as the villain in a 60 Minutes story about his involvement on the day of Alex McKinnon’s shocking spinal injury.
There were also a couple of times when Barb got caught in the crossfire that comes with being linked to one of the best – but also most divisive – players in the NRL.
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MOMENT WITH SMITH’S WIFE ‘CROSSED THE LINE’
The pressure was well and truly on in 2018. There was media hype about Melbourne’s alleged illegal tactics and wrestling obsession, and an intense focus on Smith’s influence with referees, many accusing him of essentially officiating games himself.
There were also questions about Smith’s relationships with Slater and Cronk, who was then playing his first season with the Roosters after moving north to Sydney. Even Barb was dragged into it via media reports of a supposed feud with Slater’s wife.
“Barb was brought into it, again, when stories went around about a spat between her and Billy’s wife, Nic, which never happened,” Smith writes. “They’re good friends to this day.
“We were stunned. ‘Where is this s**t coming from?’ we asked ourselves.
“What was clear was that the stories were being fabricated to fit a narrative: Cameron Smith does not get on with his teammates, and vice versa. It couldn’t have been any further from the truth, but the more it was written and talked about, the more people seemed to believe it.”
While the criticism was nothing new, this time, the scrutiny was taking its toll. As Smith says: “We’d had enough.”
Around this time there was one incident in particular that infuriated the couple. In July, while Smith was in New Zealand preparing to play the Warriors, Barb was at home in Melbourne unloading groceries from the car when she was approached by a reporter who wanted to ask about her “husband’s relationship with his teammates”.
“Barb told him to p**s off – but even so, the episode rocked her,” Smith writes. “Barb was shocked. Why was a reporter approaching her for comment about anything, especially on our property? How did he even know where we lived?
“If I’d been there, I would’ve given that bloke a mouthful. He had invaded her privacy – her personal space – and in that space were our three children, all of whom felt upset after seeing their mum get rattled.
“Things were beginning to get out of hand. Barb and I live a simple life. We’re down-to-earth people doing the best we can. It just so happens that my job has a high profile.
“Away from footy, we just enjoy hanging out at home and being as far from the public eye as possible. This had crossed the line.”
BARB CRUSHED AS SMITH HITS BREAKING POINT
Barb and Cam hug.Source:News Corp Australia
When Smith became the first person in rugby league history to play 400 games, then NRL CEO Todd Greenberg wanted to honour Barb as well, and she was gifted a diamond ring, which was later reported to have cost more than the $5000 the league claimed.
The ring sparked a storm, with some claiming the money should have been spent elsewhere in the game, and it very nearly drove Smith to quit as things got “out of control”.
A “devastated” Barb offered to return the ring given the backlash but Smith once again felt he was being unfairly targeted, with ugly consequences for his family.
“I felt terrible for Barb. She hadn’t signed up for this,” Smith writes. “We’d been dating before I even started playing NRL, when there was every chance I wouldn’t make it to the top grade.
“She has never used the game or the media to gain any benefit for herself. For her it was never about the red carpets or the publicity. She was just there to support me.”
Making matters worse, this was all happening in the context of ugly rumours being spread about an alleged affair between Smith and TV presenter Yvonne Sampson, which he flat out rejected.
The Smith’s and Yvonne SampsonSource:Supplied
LITTLE THINGS PAINT THE BIG PICTURE
While they’ve been bruised along the way, there are plenty of instances in Smith’s book where his and Barb’s love shine through. Like when he defied an angry Craig Bellamy by pulling out of the 2008 World Club Challenge in England to stay home because Barb was due to give birth to the couple’s first child.
Bellamy assured Smith the first baby “always goes past their due date” and told his hooker he’d be back in time for the birth, but Smith put family above footy.
Daughter Jada was in fact late, born two weeks after the Storm – minus Smith – arrived home from the UK. “Bellyache was filthy. ‘I told you!’ he said when I saw him next,” Smith says. “‘I told you so! They always go over!’”
When their second child was due during the finals in September 2009, Barb selflessly offered to get induced so Smith wouldn’t have to skip any games. Having missed the 2008 decider through suspension, she knew how much the chance at redemption meant to him.
Smith also talked to Bellamy about moving back home to Brisbane in 2014 because of how tough it was for Barb raising three children in Melbourne without a family support network. But she didn’t let that train leave the station, telling Smith although things were challenging, she knew he wanted to keep playing for the Storm and she would support that dream.
Smith paid an emotional tribute to Barb after winning the Dally M Medal in 2017, and she did the same when he reached the 400-game milestone.
“Most people mumble when they’re from a sh***y area. You shout it from the rooftops,” she said. “You’ve always said it loudly.
“‘I’m from Logan, mate’.”
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