When Melbourne champion Cameron Smith made his NRL debut in 2002, Penrith hooker Sione Katoa was just seven-years-old. This weekend the pair will go head to head when the Panthers face the unbeaten Storm in Bathurst.
While 24-year-old Katoa’s career is only just getting started, his opposite rival in Smith has virtually done it all in the game after 17 years in the top grade.
Katoa has idolised the former Queensland and Australian skipper for a very long time and believes he’s been the key to Melbourne’s dominance for nearly two decades.
“On Saturday night, we just need to control Cameron Smith – the mastermind,” he told the Weekender.
“For someone like me, I highly regard him as the best player going around. Even to this day, I look at what he does and how it can help my game.
“He’s the world’s best hooker and has been for a long time. I couldn’t imagine still playing at his age .”
While Penrith’s record against the Storm has been rotten, they did manage to jag a win against the 2017 Premiers in the final round of last season.
Melbourne were missing plenty of big names that night including Billy Slater and Cameron Munster, but it was still a monumental win for Penrith who had never tasted victory at AAMI Park.
“It was tough and daunting going down to Melbourne, it’s always a hard place to win,” Katoa said.
“They are a world-class club and you always have to be up for a big one against them.”
Katoa played his first game of the season last week after an unlucky injury ruled him out of the opening round.
“I got concussed at training after Nick Lui-Toso’s elbow caught my temple flush and I was out cold,” Katoa said.
“I’m actually glad I had the week off… health and safety is a priority for us.”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.