Cameron Smith has announced his immediate retirement from representative football, leaving an ageing Queensland side already missing Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk with a huge void ahead of the 2018 Origin series.
The Maroons skipper and legend appeared incredibly calm and collected as he fronted the media to announce his rep retirement alongside Queensland coach Kevin Walters.
“It’s been a fairly lengthy process for me to come to this decision,” Smith said.
The 34-year-old revealed the major reason for his decision was the difficulty he experienced backing up after last year’s torrid Origin campaign.
“Last year more than any other year the Origin series had an effect on me both physically and mentally out of any year I’ve played,” Smith said.
“Looking back now, I don’t think that’s fair on myself, my family and also my teammates back here at Melbourne Storm.
“In 2017 I couldn’t quite manage to back up after any of those Origin matches, which is something I’ve done every other year that I’ve played.
“Maybe that was a sign for me right then that it was time for me to finish up my representative career, because I’m very proud of my ability to back up after Origin games.”
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The four-time Dally M representative footballer of the year revealed his family was also a motivating influence in his decision, revealing he struggled not being around those closest to him during representative tours.
However, Smith quickly shot down suggestions that his decision was based off the ageing state of the the current Maroons side.
“At no time did anyone else’s retirement or what the makeup of the team was going to be come into my (retirement) calculations,” Smith said.
The Storm skipper made special mention to Wayne Bennett and Ricky Stuart as representative coaches who had a significant impact on his career.
The veteran hooker also thanked the teammates he shared his representative football career with.
He also made mention of Craig Bellamy “for his ongoing support throughout the journey”, saying the Melbourne coach was selfless in allowing him to continually leave the club on rep duties.
He will retire as one of the greatest representative football players of all time, having won seven man of the match awards in 42 Origin appearances and two World Cups with the Kangaroos.
Queensland will now be praying hard-as-nails Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough stays fit in order to assume Smith’s revered number nine jersey.
Other options include out of form pair Jake Friend and Jake Granville.
In terms of the captaincy, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater and Darius Boyd appear to be the front-runners to replace Smith, while the injured Matt Gillett would have also come into calculations if he was lacing up the boots.
Interestingly, Smith is yet to commit to the Melbourne Storm for 2019, with the club still waiting on their skipper and coach to sign on for further seasons, however he said his decision may open the door for him to extend his NRL career.
“It doesn’t guarantee me (more NRL seasons) … I like to think it will give me the opportunity to stay on a bit longer,” Smith said.
The veteran hooker has recently come under fire for a ‘wishbone’ tackle on former teammate Kevin Proctor, which left the Titans second-rower with a serious groin injury.
Smith lifts the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. Pic: Getty
Queensland coach Kevin Walters was one of many to pay tribute to Smith, saying the Maroons would not be able to replace him, and praising his performances for the Maroons.
“I thought his performance in game 3 of last year was one of the best I have seen from anyone at that level and at age 34 that speaks volumes,” said Walters.
— Todd Greenberg (@Todd_Greenberg) May 15, 2018
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) May 15, 2018
CAMERON SMITH’S REP CAREER AT A GLANCE
– Queensland’s first-choice hooker ever since being rushed into game three of the 2003 series following injuries to PJ Marsh and Mick Crocker.
– Went on to play a record 42 Origins, feature in a record 26 wins and captain the side 21 times while missing just one game to injury.
– Claimed seven Origin man of the match awards, second only to Wally Lewis (eight).
– Debuted for the Kangaroos in 2006, playing 56 Tests to sit behind only Darren Lockyer (63), captaining the side 33 times and claiming 49 victories.
– Key part of the Maroons side that has won 11 of the last 12 State of Origin series, while also captaining the Kangaroos to two World Cups.
– Crowned Dally M Representative Player of the Year and Wally Lewis Medallist, awarded to Queensland’s player of the Origin series, in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2016.
– Won Rugby League International Federation Player of the Year honours in 2017.