Melbourne Storm, Queensland and Australian captain Cameron Smith has dropped a bombshell on Tuesday afternoon by announcing his retirement from representative football, effective immediately.
The 34-year-old called a press conference alongside Queensland coach Kevin Walters at 1pm (AEST) in Melbourne today, where he confirmed the news.
Smith told the press it was a long process in making the decision, but after not being able to back up after Origin for the Storm in 2017 and a long season ending with the World Cup, he made the decision to call it quits.
“It’s been a fairly lengthy process for me to come to this decision. I started having some small thoughts about finishing up my representative career last year,” said Smith.
“Right now, this year is the right time to finish up.
“Last year more than any other year, the Origin series had an effect on me, both physically and mentally out of any year that I’ve played. I’m very proud of my ability to back up after Origin matches.
“From a personal point of view, I would have loved to have played on for longer, but it’s not a perfect world.”
The veteran hooker has been a permanent fixture in rep footy since he made his debut and has since gone onto play 42 matches for Queensland and 56 for Australia, being involved in all 11 of the Maroons’ State of Origin successes over the last 12.
Of his 42 matches for Queensland’s State of Origin team, Smith has been captain in 21 and holds the record for most Origin victories for a single player with 26.
Since making his Origin debut in 2003, Smith has missed just a single match through injury in 2008. Matt Ballin was his replacement on that occasions, although who comes into the side this time around is much less certain.
Three players would seem to be the most natural replacements: Brisbane’s Andrew McCullough, North Queensland’s Jake Granville and Sydney’s Jake Friend. However, with Friend battling poor form and a sternum injury, and Granville’s Cowboys in a funk, McCullough would seem to be the frontrunner.
One of the side’s other veterans is likely to take the mantle of Queensland captain from Smith, with Billy Slater and Greg Inglis sure to be in the running.
Finishing his rep career with 56 Tests for Australia, Smith will be second on the overall honours list for the national team, finishing three behind Darren Lockyer, who played 59.
The retirement of Smith will continue a mass changing of the guard for the Maroons, with Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk also pulling the pin on representative football this season.
It means the only remaining member of their spine will be fullback Slater, who is almost guaranteed to be picked for the series opener in Melbourne on June 6 barring injury or suspension.