Cameron Smith has stunned the NRL world after stepping down from his role as an assistant coach to Billy Slater with the Queensland State of Origin team. The Maroons legend had worked with Slater for the past two State of Origin series, resulting in back-to-back series victories for Queensland.
But the Queensland Rugby League announced on Wednesday night that Smith won't continue in the role in 2024. The 40-year-old has opted to do more work at the grassroots level instead, and will continue his media commitments with Channel 9.
"I'm very grateful to Billy and the QRL for the opportunity to be a part of the Queensland coaching team," Smith said in a statement. "It's been a fantastic two series working with quality players. They're quality people to work with and they've certainly helped me as a rookie assistant coach.
"I was lucky enough to represent the jersey many times but to experience it from a different lens as a coach, and being able to watch this new generation play the way they did and represent the state in the manner in which they did, was highly rewarding. This year I've decided to coach at grassroots level at the Currumbin Eagles. I feel it's really important to get back to grassroots level because that's where our next generation of players come from."
Slater won two premierships and numerous State of Origin series alongside Smith, and paid tribute to his former teammate. "I don't know if there's anyone who has contributed more to the Queensland Origin team than Cam Smith," Slater said. "I'm extremely grateful for his contribution over the last two series. He's done an incredible job which I've seen first hand inside the camp with all the players and coaching staff."
Matt Ballin replaces Cameron Smith as Maroons assistant
Smith will be replaced by Matt Ballin, who will join Josh Hannay and Jonathan Thurston as Slater's assistants in 2024. Ballin has previously worked with the Queensland team on game day under Slater, and coached the Maroons' Under-19s team last year.
The 40-year-old Ballin played one Origin game for Queensland in 2010 - ironically as a replacement for the injured Smith. Ballin might have played more Origin games if not for the fact that Smith had a mortgage on the Maroons' No.9 jersey, representing Queensland a whopping 42 times.
Ballin played 220 NRL games (217 for Manly), starting at hooker in the Sea Eagles' 2008 and 2011 grand final victories. He served on the club's coaching staff for three years after his retirement.
"I've seen a whole heap of value to what Matt brings to our game-day performance," Slater said. "I'm really excited to work alongside him and continue to help our players prepare to the best of their ability."
Despite praising Smith for his decision to give back at the junior level, fans were left saddened that he wouldn't be part of the Maroons' set-up this year. As well as his 42 State of Origin games, Smith also played a record 430 games for the Melbourne Storm, as well as 56 Test matches for Australia.
Cameron smith stepping down as assistant coach of the maroons to take up coaching the under 15 Currumbin eagles is actually so cute
— Sally (@SallyGearing) January 31, 2024
A little bit of irony in Matt Ballin being his replacement.
— ☀️ (@KnightOfNRL_tbl) January 31, 2024
Mmmm, stepping in to replace Bellamy next year?
— Satchismos (@satchismos) January 31, 2024
Fair enough. Need to give nsw a chance this year.
— J.West (@cubical83) January 31, 2024
He needs to come back to the @storm
— Lord St. John Cromwell, Earl of Strathmore (@JohnMKeynes1936) January 31, 2024
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