Tributes flow for Maroons 'benchmark' Smith
Queensland coach Kevin Walters has described Cameron Smith as the "benchmark" for anyone who wears the Maroon jersey after his skipper's shock retirement from representative football.
Smith is bowing out of the interstate arena and Kangaroos duties, effective immediately, leaving Walters without his Queensland skipper, hooker and goalkicker just three weeks out from this year's Holden State of Origin series opener in Melbourne.
Walters conceded Smith's influence would prove "impossible" to replicate, pointing to his last Origin performance in the 2017 decider as a true measure of the veteran's rare standing at the game's highest level.
"I think his performance in game three of last year's State of Origin series performance was one of the best I've seen of anyone at that level and he was at 34 years of age," Walters told a packed press conference on Tuesday.
"To me, that speaks volumes again of the person and character that he is. He's set a benchmark for everyone that's put on a Maroon jersey in his tenure.
"For mine, watching him over the years and coaching him, I know he's been a great player but more importantly he's been a great person.
"Respect and humility - he shows that every day. One of the great things I respect about Cameron is how he conducts himself in every aspect of his life".
Walters's brother, Kerrod, who represented Queensland at hooker seven times from 1989-94, described Smith as the "complete package".
"Cameron is a once-in-a-generation player. He is the sort of player you can’t replace so you’ve got to hope that another player comes along that is half as good as he is," Walters told NRL.com.
"Everything he does – from his football ability to his leadership to his football brain – is without peer.
"He kicks out of dummy half, he kicks goals and he is so sound defensively. Cameron is the complete package. He will be sadly missed.
"He is the ultimate professional and led from the front on and off the field and for that reason he is a coach's dream."
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said Smith's importance to representative teams was impossible to quantify.
"Cameron is a wonderful captain, both in the way he plays on the field as well as the way he carries himself off the field," Meninga said.
"He has been an outstanding representative of the Kangaroos' values in the green and gold. He is highly competitive and highly respected but above all that he is a great person.
"Obviously he will be missed but what he has done over 56 matches for the Kangaroos as well as during his time with the Maroons will leave an important legacy for future players and future leaders."
His only NRL club coach Craig Bellamy said players have a lot of reasons for hanging up their rep jerseys. But he believes Smith's decision will lengthen his NRL career. Smith is off contract at the end of 2018.
"Sometimes your pace goes, your desire goes ... there's a lot of different reasons but I think not playing rep footy will certainly freshen him up mentally and physically," Bellamy told NRL.com.
"I just think he'll definitely play on. But for how long is probably the question now.
"Not playing for Australia or Queensland anymore I reckon will lengthen his NRL career if he's still got the mentality to really want it and really want to play."
After 98 games for his country and state combined, Bellamy said Tuesday's announcement was one of celebration and not sadness.
"We should be celebrating him. It's obviously a sad day for Queenslanders but they'd feel the same way," he said.
"They won't be putting up their hands saying 'What are we going to do?' They will be talking about what a wonderful player he's been for Queensland and Australia and what he's done for both teams in terms of their results and their culture.
"For someone to play more than 50 Tests and more than 40 Origins and to play so consistently well in every single one, that's the thing worth celebrating. He's done a great job for Australia and a great job for Queensland and that's what we need to thank him for today."
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said Smith would go down as one of the greats.
"Cameron will retire as one of the greatest ever representatives of both the Kangaroos as well as the Maroons," Greenberg said.
"He will also be revered as one of the greatest captains.
"What he has achieved over such a long period of time for both Australia and for Queensland is simply phenomenal.
"Cameron deserves enormous credit for what he has done on the representative stage and while he will be missed it's important as a game that we congratulate him on his incredible achievements."