Is Maroons icon Cameron Smith’s unexpected representative retirement call set to usher in a long-awaited era of NSW State of Origin dominance?
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Melbourne legend Cameron Smith dominated rugby league news cycles earlier this month 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
Before Smith’s announcement, 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.
Andrew McCullough vs Jake Friend on Friday just became a bit of a big deal
— BroncosStable (@broncosstable) May 15, 2018
Queensland coach, Kevin Walters, has gone with Andrew McCullough as the man to replace Smith at hooker, while South Sydney Rabbitohs skipper and arguably Queensland’s greatest ever centre, Greg Inglis, has been entrusted the duty of leading the Maroons onto the MCG in Game 1. Both great players, but do they have the mettle to fill Smith’s unique shoes in each role?
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.
The Maroons’ lack of quality goalkicker could be decisive given James Maloney’s ability to bang them over from all angles, while his halves partner Nathan Cleary is a 90% kicker himself.
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.