Cue the debate. Narrowing down a field of champions to five is no easy task but these are the men we've decided had the greatest influence on the greatest stage league has to offer. And it took an Immortal to stop this being a Maroons clean sweep.
5. Magnificent Seven: Andrew Johns
23 games for NSW, 1995-2005
With apologies to Laurie Daley, who came within a whisker of grabbing our only spot for a Blue, we give that honour to the eighth Immortal Andrew Johns. Having been part of consecutive series victories in 1996 and '97, Joey then came off the bench in the 2000 clean sweep of the Maroons. In 2003 the Knights champion was at his dominant best in game two, winning man of the match honours as the Blues secured another series win. And in 2005 he answered an SOS from Ricky Stuart to return for game two and produced an Origin masterpiece to lead NSW to a win. The Blues then went to Brisbane and wrapped up the series and Joey's Origin story had the fairytale finish it deserved.
4. A giant in every sense: Mal Meninga
32 games for Qld, 1980-94
It seems only fitting that Big Mal would go on to coach Queensland to nine series wins after having such a huge impact as a player for more than a decade. That's 62 Origin matches in which the now Kangaroos coach had a direct involvement. As a player, he was a colossus. While his contemporaries Lewis and Langer could change the course of a game with guile and style, Meninga used brute force. Running rampant in the centres in some of the Maroons' best ever teams, Meninga scored six Origin tries and set up countless others with his charges. And then there was his goalkicking – seven goals in the historic first match in Brisbane in 1980 and 69 goals all up across his 32 games.
3. The game breaker: Johnathan Thurston
37 games for Qld, 2005-17
In the toughest arena rugby league has to offer, JT played 36 consecutive games between 2005 and 2016. In that time, the Maroons won an incredible 10 series, and the legendary No.6 with the legendary laugh was at the heart of everything they did. When the chips were down and his team looked beaten, Thurston would pull them out of a hole. When a penetrating kick deep into enemy territory was needed, Thurston would deliver. And he'd chase that kick as if his life depended on it. The true mark of JT's greatness is that three of his man of the match awards came in the opening game of a series – in 2007, '09 and '10 – when the winning team gains a massive psychological edge. And the other two came in deciders – in 2012 and 2015 – when the series was on the line and the champions needed to stand up.
2. The player of his generation: Cameron Smith
42 games for Qld, 2003-17
Back in 2012, when the Maroons had just made it seven series wins on the bounce, the great Darren Lockyer told Rugby League Week that Cam Smith was "ahead of his years in terms of maturity ... he gets through a mountain of work and never looks buggered. If the game went for 300 minutes he'd still play it the way he does. He's an ironman". The champion hooker would go on to win four more series and create a legacy which will never be rivalled. The ultimate big game player, Smith won a man of the match award in each of his last three series, most fittingly in the series decider in 2017 which would turn out to be his final Origin match.
1. Hail The King: Wally Lewis
31 games for Qld, 1980-91
Now that Cameron Smith has sailed into the Origin sunset you can be sure Wally Lewis' record of eight man of the match awards will never be bettered. Even when the Maroons lost, The King was such a dominant figure that he would still take home the gong. In one incredible streak between 1982 and '85, Lewis was voted best on ground five times out of six matches. An inspirational leader in word and deed, Lewis captained the Maroons on 30 occasions and was part of seven series wins. He was there on opening night in 1980 as a 20-year-old and bowed out 11 years later with the lofty reputation as the player by which all Origin performances are measured.
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