Cameron Smith’s sudden retirement from representative rugby league has sent shockwaves through the NRL, with questions about the impact of his exit set to be answered as State of Origin approaches.
Who will captain Queensland now Smith is no longer available?
Who will play hooker for the Maroons against the Blues?
Maroons great Billy Moore is among those “shocked” by the news Smith has walked away from the representative arena, following 42 Origin appearances for the Maroons and 56 Tests for Australia.
But he is confident any questions about Smith’s representative retirement and his future in the game can be answered ahead of Origin I at the MCG on June 6, and beyond.
Who will captain the Maroons in Smith’s absence?
The leadership vacuum left not just by Smith’s representative retirement, but also the absence of Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston, will be the key issue discussed by Maroons selectors ahead of naming the squad for the series opener.
Smith took over as a full-time captain in 2012 and had already led the Maroons to a series victory in 2008 when Darren Lockyer was ruled out with injury.
Darius Boyd has been mentioned as a potential skipper but his spot in the Maroons line-up is up for debate, considering the calibre of full-backs and wingers they have at their disposal.
But Moore is looking elsewhere for Smith’s replacement as Maroons captain.
“There’s probably two names that jump to mind that will be in this year’s team, that’s Matt Scott and Greg Inglis,” Moore told the ABC.
“I’m actually leaning towards Greg Inglis. He’s been a player that while he was out last year through injury he is a player that has been rarefied.
“He has been mentioned as a potential Immortal, that is how good he is. I just think he would be great to be a leader of the team.
“Matt Scott … his job will be to control the young forward pack, which obviously now with Smith not in the team is going to be a lot younger.”
Moore admits whoever is named with the ‘c’ next to their name is filling almighty big shoes.
“The Queensland captaincy is almost ordained,” he said.
“You can see the changeover happening years in advance but this year … to be the captain of the Queensland team you need to have certain credentials and credibility.”
Who will be the Maroons hooker?
Smith’s durability has meant it was difficult for the Maroons to groom a successor at hooker.
He only missed one Origin match since making his debut in 2003’s Game III, that being the opening encounter of the 2010 series when injury meant he was replaced by Matt Ballin.
According to Moore, the Maroons number nine jersey is “up for grabs” and there are two contenders — Brisbane’s Andrew McCullough and the Sydney Roosters’ Jake Friend.
Both have had recent fitness issues, however, with Friend having played a part of the season with a cracked sternum and McCullough sustaining an elbow injury after returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament from late last year.
“These two players have played over 2000 NRL matches so they’re not young (both are 28) and haven’t played any Origin,” Moore said.
“I just think they have waited over a decade for this opportunity. So, given the chance there is absolutely no way they will let Queensland down.
“I suppose they’ve got two weeks now to show who can actually fill the role.
“It’s a toss of a coin. I’m probably leaning slightly towards Jake Friend but Andrew McCullough has got two games to say ‘this is my one chance to ever grab a Queensland jersey’. So watch those two payers to perform well over the next two rounds of the NRL.”
What does the future hold for Smith?
Smith may be lost to the Maroons and Kangaroos but his NRL career will continue with the Melbourne Storm and he gave no indication he will retire from club duties at the end of the season.
Moore believes Smith will play a significant role in rugby league beyond his retirement, suggesting his knowledge of the game could see him shift into a coaching or administrative role.
“He’s just one of those very well-rounded people with a great head on his shoulders,” Moore said.
“I could see him being the leader of the game in administration but also coaching role. It really comes down to him.”