Christian Welch fears Cameron Smith's legacy may be lost amid the "embarrassing" criticism he cops after the Melbourne captain again poured cold water on what appeared to be a Suncorp Stadium farewell on Friday night.
The Storm romped to a 30-10 defeat of Canberra at the Suncorp Stadium in what was, incredibly, their eighth preliminary final in the last 10 years.
Smith has been tight-lipped about his future all season but the stage is set for the 37-year-old to bow out a winner after the Storm qualified for their fourth decider in the last five years.
It looked as if he had told teammates his 19th season would be his last when he was chaired off by teammates, having already been given a standing ovation by the 37,000-strong crowd earlier in the night.
But Smith insists he hasn't yet made the call, perhaps creatively claiming coach Craig Bellamy had manufactured the moment to ensure there was a farewell photo, just in case he never plays another game at the stadium.
The former Queensland and Australian captain will retire 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. I think it's an embarrassment to one of the great statesmen of our game," Welch told AAP.
"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."
Whether Smith plays on will dominate headlines before and possibly after Sunday's game 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.
A loss on Sunday would be the club's third grand final defeat from four appearances in the last five years.
The record-setting hooker would rather look at his club's body of work - they've now made eight deciders in 14 years - than their grand final win-loss record.
"Tonight 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."