The Queensland Rugby League (QRL) has named Cameron Smith as one of a number of possible long-term replacements for Wayne Bennett, following the veteran coach's bombshell decision to quit his role with the 2020 State of Origin series winners.
Queensland are now on the lookout for a new Origin mentor after Bennett's decision to step down so he can focus on South Sydney's NRL title hopes in 2021.
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After leading the Maroons to an historic victory in November, the Rabbitohs mentor has told Queensland officials he won't be taking up the job again this season.
Bennett had stepped in to replace Kevin Walters for the three-week series in November after the former Maroons coach was handed the reins in Brisbane.
The 2-1 series win is considered one of the greatest in Origin history given Bennett was forced to blood 14 debutants because of an injury crisis.
But with Origin to revert to a mid-season series in 2021, Bennett has told the Maroons his focus will be on delivering the Rabbitohs an NRL premiership.
"We were really grateful that Wayne made himself available to help us out last year," said Queensland Rugby League managing director Robert Moore.
"He was the perfect fit for the role with the players we had and the situation we were in.
"Together with his assistants Neil Henry and Mal Meninga, it was an outstanding coaching set up that laid the foundations for one of our state's greatest series wins.
"We understand the decision Wayne has made in his last year of his contract with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, as he's eager to concentrate his efforts on them because they've been so close (to a premiership).
"With Wayne's decision, we've now moved to a process to consider the next appointment and we anticipate that process will be completed early this year."
Smith among a number of coaching candidates
Bennett's call opens the door for the Maroons to appoint a long-term coach in the role, with former North Queensland coach Paul Green in the frame to land the gig.
While the QRL has acknowledged that Green is a terrific candidate to coach in this year's series, the feeling in the Maroons camp is that the former premiership-winning mentor of the Cowboys will likely have another full-time coaching gig before the year is out.
“With Paul Green I’m sure within a year he will have an NRL job and he expresses the view that is his priority,” said QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher.
The QRL says Green could play a mentoring role for the likes of Smith and fellow Maroons legends Billy Slater and Justin Hodges, who have all been touted as future Queensland coaches.
“We will go through a process because there have been players who have been exceptional at NRL level but don’t want to be a full-time coach and would throw their hat in the ring to be an Origin coach," Hatcher added.
“The ones that come to mind are Slater, Cameron Smith, Hodges and those guys.
“It’s not as simple as just being a coach for six weeks. We’ve still got a camp-based system with the Queensland Academy of Sport. We need to communicate and watch players playing to make sure they’re ready to come through.
“The coach can’t just turn up for the three Origin games.
“We would prefer to bring one of those guys in under the coaching leadership of an experienced coach (like Green).”
Ex-Gold Coast coach Henry is also on the radar after assisting Bennett with the job in 2020.
The first game of the 2021 series is set to start on June 9.
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