Smith's guess? Cronk to retire
Queensland captain Cameron Smith has conceded that this could very well be Cooper Cronk's final State of Origin series, believing that the star No.7 is leaning more towards retiring rather than play on in 2018.\
Cronk announced in April that he would be leaving the Storm at the end of the 2017 season in order to move to Sydney but exactly what he will do once he gets there remains very much a mystery.
Already a respected analyst with Fox Sports, Cronk could be used in a coaching capacity with the Storm if he does decide to hang up the boots, an option Storm football manager Frank Ponissi confirmed on Sunday.
Cronk has previously stated that he wouldn't be making a decision on his playing future until after the Origin series is completed, thus eliminating any sense of fanfare that he seems to abhor so much, but Smith has a hunch that this could be it.
"To be honest, I'm not leaning one way or the other with Coops's future and what he decides to do is entirely up to him," said Smith, who has shared every one of Cronk's 14 seasons in the NRL with him in Melbourne.
"I'm sort of throwing darts here but I reckon he may finish up. I just get that feeling but I wouldn't be surprised if he plays on, put it that way."
That raises the very real possibility that this could be the final series for Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater, bringing an end to three of the most decorated Origin careers the game is ever likely to see.
The returns of both Thurston and Slater have bolstered Queensland in terms of talent and presence but Smith doesn't believe their imminent departures provide any more motivation than they need to square the series at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night.
"We're all aware of the situation," Smith said ahead of his 41st game for the Maroons.
"This may be Coops's last Origin series and if it is we want to go out and make sure we play well.
"I don't think there's extra motivation for us to do that. Every game we play we want to go out and play well and win and Wednesday night is just another opportunity to do that.
"I know this is JT's last series and there's a lot of talk about that and the way he's going to play but I don't think I've ever seen him lift for occasions. I've always seen him put him in the same performance every time he's played.
"I'm sure you'll be seeing him do the same things that he does every time he plays footy, not just for Australia or Queensland but playing club football for the Cowboys as well.
"He doesn't change the way he approaches his footy games."
With four debutants and two other players with only one prior Origin experience Maroons coach Kevin Walters has instituted the greatest personnel change in a decade as he ushers in the next generation of Queensland stars.
The likes of Sam Thaiday, Nate Myles, Aidan Guerra and Jacob Lillyman have all had to make way but rather than a dramatic overhaul, Smith describes it as merely natural attrition.
"That era was always going to end," said Smith. "Those guys couldn't play on forever and Cronk, Thurston, Slater, Smith, soon enough we're all going to be done and there's going to be new guys come in.
"It is a changing of the guard in a way but it was inevitable.
"I don't see it as a negative, I see it as a positive and let's celebrate the things that those guys achieved beforehand.
"New faces, fresh legs, young guys that are really keen to make their mark on Origin football; I'm really looking forward to seeing what they will bring."