CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Cameron Smith keeps setting records in Australian rugby league, and Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has no intention of interfering with the veteran hooker's streak.
While he rested other players, including playmaker Cooper Cronk, for Australia's Rugby League World Cup group match against France on Friday in Canberra, Meninga picked Smith and ensured his captain would break the great Clive Churchill's record of 35 consecutive appearances for the Kangaroos.
He's "creating history at the moment with consecutive games. I don't want to be the person that stops that," Meninga said. "If it comes down to his health, we may make that decision. But at this stage, he hasn't had too many injuries in his career so far so touch wood he'll get through a tournament healthy."
Meninga has penciled in the 34-year-old Smith for every World Cup game, so his record for consecutive tests could reach 40 if Australia makes the grand final in Brisbane on Dec. 2. Smith has also played 42 State of Origin matches during Queensland's dominant reign and has the record for most NRL games, all for the Melbourne Storm.
"It's obviously a testament to his ability first and foremost and his resilience as a rugby league player," Meninga said before Australia's captain's run on Thursday. "To keep turning up and playing the way he does — that level he does — is extraordinarily good. That's why he's a leader of our country."
Meninga, a former Kangaroos captain whose 46-test career was interrupted by injuries, said he didn't think anybody would match Smith's record for most consecutive international appearances. Smith has played 51 tests already, including 28 as captain, and is within three games of the Australian record for most World Cup appearances.
"I don't think he'll ever be beaten to be honest with you. It's the holy grail of rugby league, playing consecutive test matches," Meninga said. "We've got six in this tournament, so that takes a fair while to play consecutive games and do what he's achieved at the moment. It isn't finished yet."
Australia won the tournament opener against England and has another group match against Lebanon after the France game before the playoff stage of the tournament.
"I've got great pride in the green-and-gold jersey and the opportunity I have to wear it," Smith said. "I've never really entertained the idea of giving it up to someone else or simply sitting out a week.
"I think that's really been the key to it — I've always wanted to be a part of every game that the Kangaroos have played while I've been a part of the side."