The champion players of our great game – know when it’s time to retire – and Cameron Smith has arrived at the decision knowing in his heart that it was time to stand down from the rigours of rep football this week.
He follows the lead of two of his great mates Jonathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk who have all decided within the space of 12 months that is was time to leave the highest level or our game on their own terms.
I have had the privilege to watch Cameron come into the QLD team in 2003 as a lean, 21-year-old rookie in my role as assistant coach to Wayne Bennett when he made his debut in a “dead rubber” in game 3 – which the Maroons won comfortably.
From his first game – he looked like he was built for Origin – and he has been there ever since (barring one game in 2010 – which he was desperate to play in).
Ironically, I was also an assist coach with the Kangaroos in his last rep campaign as Test captain in the 2017 World Cup – which culminated in his best year of his career – winning the Origin series, the Premiership, Dally M player of the year and the Golden Boot award.
What has impressed me most over that time has been his character, his durability, his calmness under pressure and his leadership.
My best memory of Cameron is the performance he delivered in a high-pressure Game 3 decider at Suncorp in 2015 after the controversial 60 minutes episode featuring Alex McKinnon – which was a very delicate situation to handle.
I remember him saying to the team very simply that he would speak to Alex at the appropriate time – but that he would bring his best game on Wednesday night and he challenged his teammates to bring theirs too. He produced his best game of the series – when it counted – and QLD won the game 52-6.
Many accolades have been given this week by his coaches and his peers, which are richly deserved, and he will be an impossible man to replace in the QLD and Aust teams.
He can now concentrate on finishing his career at the Storm – and I am sure he has his sights set on leading them to back to back Premierships for the first time since the Broncos in 1997-98.
And he might be looking to invoice the Storm for his final year of service in 2019?
NSW now have the perfect opportunity to capitalise on the changing of the guard in the mighty Maroons team as they say farewell to some of their Champions that have been mentioned above.
QLD will need to settle on a new hooker, halfback and five-eighth for the first time in over a decade – which is something that NSW have struggled to find in the key positions over the same period.
Tonight will provide the first step in this process for NSW selection when incumbent five-eighth James Maloney and his halves partner Nathan Cleary re-unite against the Tigers.
There is no secret that NSW have to think about winning this year’s series (and they are now short price favourites to do so) but they need to think about the bigger picture and the development of their team over the next 5 – 10 years.
Like Mal Meninga has done with QLD and the Kangaroos – NSW Coach Freddy Fittler has to get the right people in the key positions and give them time develop their relationships in the spine – which has been so successful for QLD over so many years.
Having already discussed the successful traits of Cameron Smith – I see similar characteristics in Cleary (at nearly the same age) that could see him spend the next 10 years as NSW’s No 7.
He reminds so much of Cameron because he is intelligent, calm under pressure, a fantastic general play kick and an outstanding goal kicker.
Before he got injured – the Panthers were well behind in a couple of games – but he didn’t panic, he drove his forwards, applied pressure with his kicking game to get them back in the game and he did it without too much fanfare.
I am expecting NSW to have James Tedesco at No 1, Maloney at No 6, Cleary at No 7 and Damian Cook at No 9.
Panthers, Eels, Roosters, Knights, Cowboys, Storm, Dragons, Sharks.