Smith can’t walk away from Queensland
QUEENSLAND skipper Cameron Smith will suit up for a record 16th Origin campaign after phoning coach Kevin Walters to formally declare he is extending his career in Maroon.
In a huge boost for the Maroons, Walters has confirmed his inspirational skipper is soldiering on for Queensland - just weeks after Smith revealed he could retire from the NRL at season's end.
During last year's Origin series, Smith refused to commit to the Maroons for 2018, although six weeks ago, the champion rake indicated he was leaning towards backing up for Queensland.
Now Smith's Origin availability is official.
The return of Smith, who will play his 43rd Origin game in the series opener at the MCG, represents the worst nightmare for a NSW side buoyed by the representative retirement of Maroons halves Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.
Walters said he is rapt to have the services of Origin's most-capped player as the Maroons look to Smith's leadership to overcome the loss of 59 games of experience in the Thurston-Cronk alliance.
"Cameron has told me he is available," said Walters, who joined forces with Smith in Melbourne on Tuesday to launch this year's Origin series ahead of Game One on June 6.
"'Smitty' is available for selection and so is Billy (Slater, Maroons fullback incumbent), so that's the direction we are taking.
"I wasn't sure if he would play on, I'm basically taking it year by year with Cam now, so the pleasing thing is we have him for this series.
"It's important to have Cam with the transition of Cronk and Thurston. Losing those two leaves a big hole experience wise and it's nice to have guys like Cameron and Billy back on deck.
"I must admit losing 'JT' (Thurston) and Cooper is huge because they are like coaches off the field. They are such a major influence to other, younger members of the Maroons team.
"There hasn't been a Queensland team in the past 10 years without Thurston or Cronk in it.
"The ones who are left behind, like Cam, must give me more as leaders.
"That's the only way we are going to cover for their loss."
At the NRL's official season launch last month, Smith was tight-lipped about his Origin and NRL future. The most-capped player in the code's 110-year history turns 35 in June and is determined to maintain Queensland's dominance as the last man standing of the Maroons' Big Three.
"Our goal is to carry on that legacy and try and get those young guys to do that. I think I'm the oldest guy in the team," Smith said.
"I'm still trying to encourage and educate what the Queensland team is about and the people we represent.
"We have lost some great rugby league players. I'd like to think we can do it again without the guys who have retired. It will be different not seeing Thurston and Cronk but for us we have to move past that.
"If we wished those guys were there, the Blues will smash us. They won't give us any sympathy."
Walters also revealed Smith will be reunited in the engine room with Cowboys and Maroons prop Matt Scott, who missed last year's series following a knee reconstruction.
"Matt has been one of those players who has stood up for Queensland and he deserves that opportunity (to play Origin again)," he said.
"They (Smith and Scott) complement each other. Senior players like them are aware of what's required at Origin level so they can be a calming influence."