Cameron Smith celebrates with Queensland teammates in 2007.
Cameron Smith celebrates with Queensland teammates in 2007.

15-year masterclass: Smith’s finest Origin games

THE cornerstone of Queensland's decade-long era of utter dominance has worn the maroon jersey for the last time.

And he leaves one of the biggest holes in the game's history.

NSW has spent nearly 15 years searching for a replacement for Andrew Johns at halfback, and in seven decades Australia is yet to find a batsman fit to lace Bradman's pads - and now Queensland has the impossible task of filling Cameron Smith's boots.

 

Smith announced his shock retirement on Tuesday from all representative rugby league, effective immediately, ending the career of arguably the greatest-ever Maroon.

Smith's Queensland resume is something unlike any other in State of Origin history - and one which will never be matched.

The superstar hooker made his debut in game three of the 2003 series - naturally, it was a win for a man who tastes success far more than he's ever had to confront failure.

The following year he was handed the hooking duties full-time and within two years he'd sparked an unprecedented run of eight-straight series wins.

Undoubtedly one of Queensland's greatest ever players, Smith will be spoken of in the same breath as Wally Lewis, Johnathan Thurston and Darren Lockyer.

Darren Lockyer and Cameron Smith: two Queensland greats.
Darren Lockyer and Cameron Smith: two Queensland greats.

It's hard to imagine a player has had a greater influence on the State of Origin concept.

He will walk away as the Origin' with the most wins, with 27 victories to his name.

Long-time Maroons teammate Johnathan Thurston is the closest player to Smith's record 42 appearances - but even the retired halfback is five games shy.

Only the King of Origin, Wally Lewis, trumps Smith when it comes to man-of-the-match awards - and even there the Storm star is only pipped eight to seven.

Smith has won the Wally Lewis Medal - for player of the series - a record four times.

But Smith's greatness is such that he's often at his best on the field when you don't notice him. Silently guiding his teammates around the park. Plugging holes in defence before you realise a hole was even there.

It means his greatest games can be devoid of a stunning try or bone-crunching tackle. It's why his best moments can be melted down into one picture of Smith's arms raised in victory.

But there are still five from his Maroons career which stand out from the rest.

SMITH'S TOP ORIGIN FIVE PERFORMANCES

SMITH'S BRILLIANT DEBUT

Dead rubber matches can typically be forgotten - except when they unearth one of the game's greatest ever.

Cameron Smith stepped into the troublesome No.9 jersey, which had been occupied by PJ Marsh and Michael Crocker in games one and two, and Queensland never looked back.

Cameron Smith takes it all in following his Queensland debut.
Cameron Smith takes it all in following his Queensland debut.

As you'd expect, Smith had a blinder and Queensland roared to a record-equalling 36-6 victory.

Smith tackled his backside off - to the tune of 35 for the match - and, as he always has, played to the last minute by scoring a late try.

As would become a feature in his career, Smith was named players' player.

He was just 18 games into his NRL career.

Cameron Smith was awarded the Wally Lewis medal as man of the series in 2007.
Cameron Smith was awarded the Wally Lewis medal as man of the series in 2007.

MAN OF THE MATCH, MAN OF THE SERIES

Up until 2007, ANZ Stadium - then called Telstra Stadium - was a fortress for NSW. Queensland had never won at the venue.

That looked set to continue when NSW went ahead early through Brett Stewart, before Smith took over - producing an impossible pass, in traffic, to send Greg Inglis over in the corner to level the scores.

As the match turned into a grind, Smith was in his element, racking up 42 tackles to smother NSW's attack in characteristic fashion.

"In games I've been involved with, that's the gutsiest I've been in," said Queensland legend Darren Lockyer.

Smith was named man of the match and later awarded the Wally Lewis Medal as the man of the series.

Queensland's dynasty was in full swing.

Deja vu — Smith wins another man-of-the-series medal, handed over by the King himself.
Deja vu — Smith wins another man-of-the-series medal, handed over by the King himself.

THE 2011 MASTERPIECE

Across a three-game series, Smith has not played better - winning man-of-the-match awards in Queensland's two wins in the series, games one and three.

He was at his crafty best in game one, setting up Thurston with a grubber in the fifth minute to signal a tough night for the visitors at Suncorp.

But NSW would hit back with a two-try blitz late - forcing the Maroons to dig deep, and turn to their champions.

Smith shovelled the ball to Thurston and he went wide to Lockyer, who turned it inside to Slater to score in the 73rd minute.

And that was that.

In the biggest moments, Smith was always involved.

 

Cameron Smith holds the series trophy after the series win in 2016.
Cameron Smith holds the series trophy after the series win in 2016.

 

SMITH DELIVERS ANOTHER SERIES

When you have the chance to end a series, you take it. While there's something special about coming up big in do-or-die deciders, Smith is more inclined to ice a contest before you even have a sniff.

That's what he did in 2016, producing a typically comprehensive man-of-the-match performance as Queensland won 26-16 to seal a series win.

He drilled kicks into NSW territory - pinning the Blues back on their line - delivered grubbers that left opposition fullbacks vulnerable and then pummelled back into their own in-goals for repeat sets.

These are your Origin bread and butter. And there was no one better than Cameron Smith at it.

And the dynasty rolls on.

Johnathan Thurston (left) and Cameron Smith (right) were sent out winners in 2017.
Johnathan Thurston (left) and Cameron Smith (right) were sent out winners in 2017.

THE PERFECT FAREWELL

Perhaps Smith's finest game for the Maroons was ultimately his grand farewell: the deciding match of the 2017 series.

Smith had been quiet to in the opening two matches of the series, prompting questions about his future and whether he was no longer up to the high-octane intensity of the Origin cauldron.

He answered in the most emphatic way possible, with a masterclass that shredded NSW's defence and set up a series-winning 22-6 win.

The veteran wound back the clock and found his running game again, surging out of dummy half to rack up 105 meters.

He set up tries, made line breaks and was typically everywhere in defence, making 37 tackles.

Throw in three sideline conversions and it was a true masterclass.

"His performance in game three of last year's State of Origin series was one of the best I've seen from anyone at representative level," said Maroons coach Kevin Walters.

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