Lockyer reveals Smith decision left him stunned

Scott Bailey

Queensland selector and Maroons legend Darren Lockyer admits he was left shocked by Cameron Smith's decision to vacate his Queensland State of Origin throne just weeks out from the series opener.

Smith's decision to walk away from representative football stunned the NRL on Tuesday, giving Queensland two weeks to find a new hooker and captain before going into camp for Game I.

Smith only discussed his possible retirement with those closest to him as he weighed up the decision, and informed coach Kevin Walters over the weekend.

But while Walters admitted he had an inkling it was coming, Smith's former teammate in Lockyer was as surprised as anyone when told on Tuesday morning.

"I was shocked," Lockyer told AAP.

"I didn't know until three hours before the press conference that it was happening.

Lockyer didn't see Smith's decision coming. Pic: Getty

"He's 35 this year so I guess people would be starting to talk about when he was retiring but I don't think anyone would have envisaged it was now from rep footy."

By Lockyer's own admission, Queensland are now in a rebuilding phase for the first time in more than a decade following the retirements of Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.

"Cameron's record speaks for itself," Lockyer said.

"You look at all the stats around Origin and Australia. It's unrivalled. To only miss one game over that period of time in that arena is mind-boggling.

"It leaves a massive void. You don't just lose the best hooker the game has ever seen, you lose a great leader and a goalkicker.

"There are candidates there, (Andrew) McCullough, (Jake) Friend and (Jake) Granville. We've got options, but the gap between Cameron and the others is quite significant without disrespecting those guys."

Lockyer praised Smith's composure and demeanour on Tuesday, after he took over the captaincy of the Kangaroos and Queensland sides following his own retirement in 2011.

Greg Inglis, Matt Scott and Darius Boyd now appear the likely favourites to take over from Smith, but Lockyer indicated there were two approaches the Maroons could take.

"It's a bit of a rebuilding phase," he said.

"There are two trains of thought. Do you go with someone who is experienced and has leadership qualities, or do you look at someone who can potentially be skipper for the next 10 years?

"No decision is going to be made in the next 24 hours. It's about sitting down, consulting and working out the best strategy going forward."

Lockyer wasn't alone in his surprise.

Maroons great Wally Lewis predicted a painful time ahead on the Nine Network, while Queensland legend Billy Moore admitted on Fox Sports he first thought it was a joke.

Meanwhile Smith's long-time mentor, Mal Meninga, paid tribute to his Queensland and Australia captain.

"He will be missed but what he has done over 56 matches for the Kangaroos as well as during his time with the Maroons will leave an important legacy for future players and future leaders," he said.