Is Queensland icon Cameron Smith’s unexpected representative retirement call set to usher in a long-awaited era of NSW State of Origin dominance?
Melbourne legend Cameron Smith dominated rugby league news cycles on Tuesday when he made the shock announcement that he would be retiring from rep footy – effective immediately.
So that means as well as being without all-time greats Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk for the upcoming State of Origin series, Queensland won’t have their hooker and captain, who has played an incredible 42 of the past 43 intestate matches.
— NRL (@NRL) May 15, 2018
Earlier this week NSW were $1.70 favourites to win the 2018 Origin series, with Queensland looking decent value as $2.05 outsiders – they have won 11 of the past 12 series, after all.
But Smith’s bombshell has flipped the Maroons’ campaign on its head and the State of Origin futures market has responded accordingly. The Blues have firmed to $1.55 to clinch the shield for the first time since 2014, with the defending champs easing out to $2.45.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters’ first order of business is finding a new No.9.
Kangaroos rep and Roosters veteran Jake Friend has been the long-term deputy waiting for an opportunity in the Queensland team, but Broncos rake Andrew McCullough arguably has better form on the board. In a case of perfect timing, the Roosters and Broncos do battle in Round 11 of the NRL.
Jake Granville would be a last-ditch option, while halfback front-runner Ben Hunt shapes as a left-field choice that would allow the Maroons to squeeze more of their gun playmakers into the squad.
Andrew McCullough vs Jake Friend on Friday just became a bit of a big deal
— BroncosStable (@broncosstable) May 15, 2018
They also have to pick someone to become Queensland’s first captain since the 2004 series opener that isn’t Smith or the equally great Darren Lockyer. Greg Inglis and Matt Scott, who both missed the 2017 series with long-term injuries, are the favourites, while Billy Slater is worthy and Darius Boyd – who is struggling to retain a spot in the side – is the Broncos’ skipper.
The factor that may have an even bigger impact on the series result, however, is the goalkicking void Smith leaves. Thurston and Smith have handled the duties for more than a decade – and back-up options are thin on the ground.
Hunt, Cameron Munster, Dane Gagai and Valentine Holmes have all done a bit of kicking at NRL level without setting the world on fire. Incredibly, Walters hinted that Smith’s decision has improved Kalyn Ponga’s chances of a debut call-up – despite kicking at just 65 percent for the Knights!
— Sporting News Australia (@sportingnewsau) May 15, 2018
The Maroons’ lack of quality goalkicker could be decisive given likely NSW selection James Maloney’s ability to bang them over from all angles, while his potential halves partner Nathan Cleary is a 90-percent kicker.
But before stampeding to get a piece of the $1.55 about a Blues series triumph, it’s worth remembering where the hapless mob south of the border are at.
Under new coach Brad Fittler, NSW have a number of positions still up for grabs and are likely to blood several debutants (including at hooker) – predominantly due to the failures of their predecessors and the form of the incumbents, rather than newcomers overwhelmingly beating the selection door down.
"My first thought was not one of relief, but that I now had to work harder''
– Brad Fittler on hearing about Cameron Smith retiring from rep football.https://t.co/SRPRhHOlKT
— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) May 16, 2018
And the pressure is now all on the Blues as warm favourites – an unfamiliar position they have not dealt with well in the past. But the Maroons are going through a massive overhaul as well.
The June 6 opener in Melbourne is effectively must-win for NSW. Game two is in Sydney, where the Blues should prevail (despite Queensland winning three of their last four at ANZ Stadium), but NSW haven’t won a Brisbane decider since 2005.
Smith’s absence will have a massive bearing on the 2018 Origin series – but there’s still plenty of work to do before NSW can start moving on from the 12 years of pain he, Thurston, Cronk and co. have inflicted.