Origin's great shift: How New South Wales ended Queensland's dynasty to start an empire of their own
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Cameron Smith’s retirement from representative football continues the slow dismantling of the dominant force that is the Queensland team, who have won 11 of the past 12 State of Origin series, dating back to 2006.
This period of dominance was built around the spine of Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston, Smith, and later Cooper Cronk.
These players have been regarded as among the greatest the NRL have produced, and the best to play in their respective positions (though Thurston has excelled both at five-eighth and halfback, and Inglis is more of a fullback than a centre, where he started his playing career).
Lockyer retired at the end of the 2011 season, in which he led the Maroons to their fifth (of eight) consecutive Origin series victory. But the state remained dominant, with Thurston shifting to five-eighth to make way for new starting halfback Cronk, who had been used as a utility during the 2010 and 2011 series.
Thurston and Cronk played 14 games together, with the former playing his final match when he suffered a serious shoulder injury in the second game of 2017. Cronk, meantime, played his finale in that year’s deciding game.
What many did not know was that it would also be the final game played by captain Cameron Smith, who has based his decision on wanting to spend more time with his family in Melbourne.
Smith’s decision has turned this year’s series on its head, with Queensland selectors forced to name a new captain and just their third different hooker since Smith debuted in the final game of the 2003 series.
Jake Granville (Cowboys), Andrew McCullough (Broncos) and Jake Friend (Roosters) are the front-runners to replace Smith. Of the trio, only Friend has captained his club, while he has played one Test for Australia.
As for the captaincy, Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis will likely be given the nod to lead into what looms as a new era for the state.
As far as NSW is concerned, given how much torment Smith and co. have caused over the past decade, it’s fair to say that they are more than happy to finally see the back of him.
While Smith’s achievements in the game are well-documented, every Origin match played in Sydney saw him cast as public enemy number one.
Thus in his absence, you get the feeling that the Origin pendulum might finally swing the Blues’ way.
But will it?
When Johnathan Thurston was ruled out of the deciding game last year, Cameron Munster made his Origin debut, at five-eighth, alongside his (now former) club teammate Cooper Cronk and Queensland won 22-6.
With Cronk having also stepped down from rep football, it is likely that Ben Hunt – who has been in scintillating form for the Dragons this year – will partner Munster in the halves. Michael Morgan and Daly Cherry-Evans are also options for the halfback role, though it is likely the former will be named on the bench.
Meantime, Broncos captain Darius Boyd is no certainly to be named, with the 2010 Clive Churchill Medallist conceding his club from has been down.
Former Maroons winger Wendell Sailor has left Boyd out of his ‘mock’ side, naming Slater at fullback, Valentine Holmes and Dane Gagai on the wings, and Greg Inglis and Will Chambers in the centres.
It must be noted, though, Sailor named his side before this week’s announcement that Smith was retiring from representative football.
Smith’s retirement will mark the first time since Game 2 1999 that none of Lockyer, Thurston, Smith or Cronk will be present.
From the outside looking in, especially from a Blues fan’s perspective, you’d think that Queensland’s glorious era has finally come to an end.
But if the history, and in particular Game 3 last year, are any indication, the Maroons will somehow find a way to retain the shield.