Darren Lockyer made Cameron Smith want to be a better player, now after serving a lengthy apprenticeship, Smith has the task of filling the illustrious boots of the most decorated Australian captain of all time.
It’s some act to follow.
While Smith has indeed led the green and gold’s with distinction in the past, it was very much a caretaker role for an absent Lockyer. Not anymore.
“It is a very proud moment,” Smith told NRL.com.
“To be given the job on a permanent basis, it’s great. I have had the opportunity to captain the Kangaroos in the past, but it was more a fill-in role for Locky, when he wasn’t there, but it is a huge honour to take that on full-time.”
Smith is a student of the game and doesn’t take his new role lightly. He talks of Lockyer fondly and the effect the great number six has had on Smith over the years is obvious.
It was Smith, remember, who chaired Lockyer aloft on his shoulders after his final State of Origin game at Suncorp Stadium last year, carrying him all the way out of the famous stadium for the last time.
Smith then repeated the dose at the final of the Four Nations at Elland Road in Leeds - Lockyer’s last ever game of Rugby League.
It was no coincidence.
Lockyer has always been a source of inspiration and motivation for Smith.
“He is a great leader and I really enjoyed my time under him, not just at Test level but at Origin level as well,” Smith said.
“I think the biggest attribute he had was the role he played in big matches. Whenever the Kangaroos needed the lift he was the man that would come up with the big play or the inspirational play for the other players and that lifted everyone around him.
“For me, that is what stood him out from the rest.”
Smith and Lockyer played a total of 43 representative games together, 20 for Queensland and 23 for Australia and Smith was never too far away from Lockyer during their campaigns. From functions, to training, right up to seating positions on the team bus, Smith was always near his leader and close mate.
Watching and constantly learning.
“His preparation, he really knew how to knuckle down at training,” Smith continues, “he trained extremely hard every time he was on the paddock and gave himself every opportunity to play well in every game he played.
“It is something I’ve tried to replicate in the past. It hasn’t been a new thing, I started when I saw him doing it.
“Hopefully I can continue where he left off with a successful campaign with the Kangaroos, if I can lead the boys the best I can, hopefully we will get the victory against New Zealand on Friday night.”
While Lockyer has finally retired, the Australian team largely stays the same, with only two debutants (James Tamou and David Taylor) named by coach Tim Sheens. It means Smith’s transition into the top role, while daunting because of his predecessor, should be a seamless one.
“I don’t think there is a big challenge for the captain,” Smith said.
“I’m very fortunate to have the players I do around me, Paul Gallen, Johnathan Thurston and Luke Lewis are all captains of their respective clubs, then you have players here that have been around for a long time, Billy Slater, Justin Hodges, Cooper Cronk – they are all blokes that will help me on the field when I need it. We have a strong team and plenty of experience.
“For me to put a stamp on the side, I guess leaders have different attributes and qualities, I just like to go out and play my best every time I’m on the park and hopefully my actions do most of the talking. If I do that, the boys can follow.”
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - and like clockwork - Smith echoes his former captain. Lockyer was a leader of men on the field, but a very humble, attention deflector off it. Smith it seems, has learnt a lot from the most decorated captain in Australian rugby league history.
He acknowledges that Lockyer made him a better player, now it’s time for Smith to replicate his master and lead the way for the next generation of Australian players.
You sense he is revelling in his new role.
Part 2 of the interview will be available tomorrow on NRL.com.