Melbourne Storm legend Cameron Smith has dropped a bombshell with the State of Origin series just weeks away, announcing his immediate retirement from representative football.
The shock decision means Queensland are on the hunt for a new hooker and captain for the 2018 campaign.
— NRL (@NRL) May 15, 2018
“Today I’m, announcing my retirement from representative football as of right now, which means I’ll be unavailable for selection for the Maroons in the 2018 State of Origin series and any Test matches which involve the Kangaroos this year,” Smith said on Tuesday.
“It’s been a fairly lengthy process for me to come to this decision. I started having some small thoughts about finishing up my representative career last year.
“Right now, this year is the right time to finish up.
“Last year more than any other year, the Origin series had an effect on me, both physically and mentally out of any year that I’ve played. I’m very proud of my ability to back up after Origin matches.”
Queensland coach Kevin Walters back Smith’s decision and paid tribute to his immense contribution to the Maroons’ cause over the past 15 series.
“After the year that Cameron had last year, winning the Origin series, winning the NRL premiership with the Storm and then winning the World Cup, that’s a very big year,” Walters said.
“While I expected Cameron to play on this year, I’m not shocked as such. Origin is very taxing, there’s a lot of pressure and everyone has got to be fully committed or it doesn’t work.
“He’s decided what’s best for him is not to play on this year and we totally understand and respect that as well.”
Walters described Smith’s achievements in the representative arena for both Queensland and Australia as “quite incredible”.
Smith sits alongside the likes of Wally Lewis, Allan Langer, Laurie Daley, Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston as one of the most influential players in Origin history.
He is also by far the longest-serving, playing an astonishing 42 matches and missing just one game for the Maroons since debuting in game three, 2003.
Attention will quickly turn to who will become just the third player to wear the Queensland No.9 jumper in the past 15 years, after Smith and ex-Manly rake Matt Ballin, who deputised in the 2010 series opener.
Sydney Roosters veteran Jake Friend has been waiting patiently for an opportunity for several seasons and toured with the Kangaroos in 2016. But Brisbane stalwart Andrew McCullough will also have plenty of support for a debut call-up.
Another option – given Queensland’s wealth of halves talent – could be to slot the versatile Ben Hunt into hooker. Hunt made his Origin debut off the bench in last year’s decider and has played four Tests for Australia as an interchange utility, as well as plenty of NRL footy at dummy-half.
The St George Illawarra star is the current front-runner to be picked at halfback, but moving him to hooker would allow Michael Morgan to retain a place in the starting line-up.
Whichever way the Maroons selectors decide to go, it represents a monumental changing of the guard, with Thurston and Cooper Cronk also farewelling the representative arena last year. Queensland has not played an Origin match without at least one of Smith, Thurston or Lockyer since 1999.
Meanwhile, Smith has captained his state a total of 21 times and in all 18 games since Lockyer retired. Automatic selections Greg Inglis, Matt Scott and Billy Slater, and the out-of-sorts Darius Boyd shape as the only genuine candidates to take over as skipper.
Shane Webcke (game one, 2004) is the last player besides Smith and Lockyer to captain Queensland.
Smith’s decision denies him the opportunity to overtake Lockyer as Australia’s most-capped player. He still leaves behind a stellar record of 56 Tests for 49 wins, six losses and a draw, scoring 170 points and leading the green-and-golds to two World Cup triumphs in 2013 and ’17.
Only Lockyer, who led Australia in 38 of his 58 Tests, has captained the Kangaroos more times than Smith’s 33.
Cameron Smith has just ended the best ever career in maroon, green and gold. Only Lockyer would come close. Champion of the game.
— Chris Garry (@ChrisGarry7) May 15, 2018