Former NSW Origin winner Braith Anasta has demolished Andrew McCullough’s hopes of contributing to a Queensland comeback, saying the Maroons can only win if they bring Cameron Smith back out of retirement.
Queensland were well beaten by the Blues at the MCG last Wednesday night in a game that featured a host of fresh faces.
While NSW had more debutants, the Maroons lacked cohesiveness in what was their first game with none of the ‘big four’ – Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith – since 2003.
Although Slater could return for Origin II in Sydney on Sunday week, Anasta says the “drastic change” the Queenslanders need is to bring their former captain and star hooker back.
“I believe that if Queensland are to have any chance of winning this Origin series … they need to bring Cameron Smith back,” he told Fox League.
Yet as much as it is about Smith, it is also about the Broncos hooker McCullough.
He was almost an automatic selection after Smith announced his shock withdrawal just weeks before the series began but he was outplayed by NSW counterpart Damien Cook in the opener.
“I don’t believe they can win it with McCullough at No.9,” Anasta said.
“On the weekend Wayne Bennett had him off the field and didn’t put him back on at a time when they needed points against the Melbourne Storm.
“(Queensland) took him off in that first Origin game when they needed points and didn’t put him on when they could have. It shows a lack of trust. It shows that he probably isn’t exactly what they’re looking for.
“I love McCullough, solid player, and I don’t want to disrespect him but Cameron Smith, best mates with Billy Slater, Billy Slater’s last Origin series, we all know how Queensland want a bit of controversy, a bit of fanfare, bringing old players back – they did it with Alfie Langer – why wouldn’t they do it with Cameron Smith when they need it the most?
“For his best mate’s swan song, make it his as well. All of a sudden they’re both back, we go to ANZ Stadium, third game in Brisbane, Queenslanders would be frothing at this. They’d be loving it.”
The one issue with Anasta’s suggestion is that there are no indications Smith will return.
He was pivotal in Melbourne’s win over Brisbane last Saturday – when he played 80 minutes to McCullough’s 59.
There is also unlikely to be an SOS call from Queensland coach Kevin Walters, who this week said that the team’s fans have to understand the dominant era is over and is unlikely to be repeated.