Cameron Smith has surprisingly called an end to his representative career with Queensland and Australia just three weeks out from the beginning of the State of Origin series.
The shock announcement means Queensland will have to appoint a new captain and hooker for the Origin series opener on June 6.
The 34-year-old officially announced his representative retirement at a media conference in Melbourne this afternoon.
Smith said it was the “right time” to exit the representative arena.
“It’s been a fairly lengthy process for me to come to this decision,” he said.
“I probably started having small thoughts about finishing up my representative career last year.”
“The origin series in particular had an effect on me both physically and mentally out of any year I played,” he said.
“Looking back on it now I don’t think that it is fair on myself, I don’t think it’s fair on my family and also my teammates back here at Melbourne Storm.”
After making his debut for Queensland in 2003, Smith played a record 42 Origins for the Maroons and was captain of the side since 2012.
In that period he missed just one match — the series opener in 2010 due to injury — and won a record 26 matches.
He captained Queensland to six Origin series victories, which included filling in for the injured Darren Lockyer in 2008 before becoming full-time skipper four years later.
His exit coincides with the representative retirements of Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, which were announced last year.
Smith described as ‘a great person for the game’
Smith thanked his Storm coach Craig Bellamy for his support during his representative career, as well as his former Maroons mentors Mal Meninga and Wayne Bennett.
“Not only did they make me a better footballer and a better captain but a better person overall as well,” he said.
Maroons coach Kevin Walters joked he would have liked Smith to play on in “30-minute spells”.
But he paid tribute to Smith, who he described as an outstanding “ambassador” and “student” in rugby league.
“He’s been a great person for the game, more than anything else,” Walters said.
“Respect, humility, all those things you like to see in people he shows that in every day of his life.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says Smith would be sorely missed.
“It’s very sad about Cameron Smith and we wish him all the best for his future. He’s been an inspiration to many Queenslanders,” she said.
“He’s done our state proud. There’s big shoes to fill so we’ll leave it up to Kevvy Walters to decide who that’s going to be.”
Walters said it was fitting Smith’s final Origin appearance in 2017 was one to remember.
“I thought his performance in Game III of last year was one of the best I have seen from anyone at that level and at age 34 that speaks volumes,” he said.
Smith’s decision is likely to springboard Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough into contention for a Queensland debut, while Jake Granville of the Cowboys could be another option.
Darius Boyd, Billy Slater or Greg Inglis are the most likely candidates to take over the captaincy, however Boyd has battled form and fitness at Brisbane this season.