He has played in more grand finals than any other New Zealander.

He is a mainstay of the Kiwis, a man who coach Stephen Kearney admits helps to keep Benji Marshall in check.

He was head-hunted by Wayne Bennett and is now one of the major forces behind Cronulla's strong early season form.

But for all his achievements, Jeremy Smith rarely hogs the headlines and would go mostly unrecognised on Queen Street.

Smith seems to like it that way, and the modest 31-year-old takes a while to sum up what has made him so successful.

"That's a hard question, mate. I guess I have been in the right place at the right time. The Storm had a lot of great players and then Wayne made the Dragons into a good team."

When pressed, the Sharks second-rower eventually says it all boils down to attitude.

"Attitude is a big part of rugby league," says Smith. " It is about wanting to go beyond. It is about having the want to get up and go and do something you don't really want to do - I suppose that fits in with what I am about."

Others are more forthcoming when exploring the essence of his success.

"He is an incredible competitor," says Kearney. "He wants to win every contest within a game. He's a winner and his preparation to succeed is second to none."

"Jeremy doesn't go backwards," says former Kiwis captain Hugh McGahan. "Either on attack or defence, he is never seen to be going backwards - he is always dominant. He doesn't always get the accolades but he is one of the most successful Kiwis ever to play in the NRL."

McGahan says Smith is exceptionally good at doing his job week in, week out, comparing his consistency to former Kiwi and Cronulla great Dane Sorensen.

Kearney worked with Smith for many years at the Storm, as well as seeing him up close in the national team environment.

"He knows what it takes to get things done," says Kearney. "Even on the training field, he is very efficient. Defensively, he hits hard, he is very aggressive, has good ball skills and is as brave as anyone."

A natural leader, many were surprised that he was not chosen to captain the Kiwis after the retirement of Nathan Cayless and demise of Roy Asotasi. His try - and rampaging run through the heart of the Kangaroos defence - got the Kiwis back in the game in the 2008 World Cup final; it was the moment that gave them belief.

Marshall's profile, as well as his unpredictable talent, gave him the armband, but Smith has an important function in the Kiwis set-up.

"He brings a balance and keeps them in line," says Kearney. "He helps to tone down Benji's natural exuberance and when he speaks, they listen."

Smith was a late bloomer. He made his debut as a 24-year-old for the Storm towards the end of the 2004 season, but was barely sighted again until 2006. That year he was part of the team that lost a narrow grand final to the Broncos and went on to play in the 2007 and 2008 deciders. When Bennett moved to Kogarah, he targeted Smith as a priority signing and the New Zealander locked the scrum when the Dragons beat the Roosters in the Sydney rain last year.

Kearney remembers the young Smith as "a bit of a rough diamond".

"He was a loose cannon - a bit wild but all that time under Craig Bellamy straightened him out."

"They [the Storm] like to bring in players with the right work ethic," says McGahan. "That is the essential element - and they are confident they can teach the rest."

Smith's main memories of his Melbourne days centre around the rigorous training sessions where perfection was expected.

"You had to have a good attitude to come to training and train well, week in-week out, for as long as it took to get to the goal that we set ourselves," says Smith. "They have everyone go through the same schooling and it sets you up. If you do change clubs, you still have the same attitude and characteristics that carries you through."

Smith seemed to go up another level at the Dragons, under the influence of that man Bennett. He had experienced his brilliance in short doses with the Kiwis, but saw another side to the master coach at club level.

"He is quite funny - different to what people perceive," says Smith. "He always sits down the back of the bus and has a laugh and a joke with the boys. He loves the mateship part of rugby league and he likes to put his two cents in when he thinks he is funny - though I don't find him that funny," laughs Smith.

Meanwhile, while it is too early to talk of a renaissance at Cronulla, there is definitely a feeling of revival. After an early reverse in Canberra, they topped the Dragons in week two before enjoying a seven-try demolition job at Penrith. These are heady days for their long-suffering fans after two years of almost terminal decline.

They failed to record a single win from the end of June 2009 until the beginning of April 2010, and this unwelcome streak came on the back of losing 10 consecutive games at the outset of the 2009 season. Shane Flanaghan took over towards the end of last year, but they still won just two of their last 10 matches.

So why did Smith opt for the Sharks? While we can presume there were handsome financial rewards, he says he could see success on the horizon.

"I saw a good forward pack and a backline that was starting to come into their own and thought they could go a long way," says Smith, "plus it is close to where I live [Wollongong], so I didn't have to uproot the kids. I've come here as a leader and to help Gall [Paul Gallen] out - he had to do a fair bit off his own back last year. They have a fair bit of potential and just need to be pointed in the right direction."

With a revitalised Anthony Tupou and the relentless Gallen, Cronulla have arguably the best back row in the competition. Their props are willing workers, and former Penrith playmaker Wade Graham has added direction, while Colin Best has plenty to prove.

Youngsters like Albert Kelly - the fast-stepping cousin of Greg Inglis - and Nathan Gardner add real excitment to the mix.

"We have managed to get things back on track and are travelling along just right," says Smith. "We are developing that winning mentality."