MAROONS legend Cameron Smith will be groomed for a possible role as Queensland Origin coach after officially calling time on his glorious NRL career.
The six-month guessing game surrounding Smith’s playing future was finally put to bed a fortnight ago when the Melbourne Storm icon formally announced his retirement after a decorated 18-year career.
The 37-year-old departs the code with a raft of records, including the most-capped player in NRL history with 430 games and most-capped player in the State of Origin arena, having amassed a remarkable 42 appearances for the Maroons.
But the Queensland Rugby League are determined not to lose Smith from the Maroons family just yet, hatching plans for the future NRL Immortal to eventually transition into Origin coaching.
Paul Green was recently appointed as Queensland’s coach for the 2021 season, but with the former Cowboys mentor having aspirations to one day return to the NRL in a full-time capacity, the QRL have one eye on the future.
Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston will be Green’s assistant this year, while Storm great Billy Slater has been linked with the head-coaching role. But the QRL has no doubt Smith could be a revelation as a Maroons mentor.
QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher said Maroons hierarchy are mindful of having a succession plan in place if Green is snapped up by an NRL club in the coming months.
“There are a number of great former players who may not want to coach full-time in the NRL, but would consider coaching the Queensland team,” Hatcher said.
“Paul Green naturally has a desire to coach again in the NRL and I’m sure the opportunity will come up for him sooner rather than later.
“We need to plan for the future, and there’s some potential Origin coaches coming through like Billy Slater, Justin Hodges and of course Cameron Smith.
“Cameron has a wonderful football brain, so if he wanted to coach, I have no doubt he would be successful in that regard as well.”
Queensland has a history of turning Maroons players into Origin coaches.
Of the 11 coaches to have taken charge of Queensland, seven have played in the Origin arena: Arthur Beetson, Michael Hagan, Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, Mark Murray, Paul Vautin and Kevin Walters.
Green will be Queensland’s 12th Origin coach this year and he played seven games for the Maroons, including the fairytale series win involving Allan Langer in 2001.
In his final few years with the Maroons, Smith spoke of his ambitions to eventually coach in the NRL.
In the past 12 months, Smith has modified that view.
While he isn’t convinced he has the drive to be a full-time NRL coach, Smith is open to helping the Maroons, possibly as head coach or as a specialist tutor for hookers such as Harry Grant and Reed Mahoney.
“I could play a support role for Queensland,” Smith said.
“There’s no doubt I want to stay involved with the game. I have loved it since I’ve started playing, so I always want to be a part of it. But in what capacity that is, I’m not too sure.
“I definitely won’t be a full-time coach. There’s so much pressure with coaching and, playing 400 games, I’ve felt that expectation and pressure for long enough.
“If I ever took on a coaching role, I’d want to be the best at it, just like anything else in life I’ve tried to do.
“I look at the way Craig Bellamy operates at the Storm. He puts a ridiculous amount of time into his job and I just don’t think I have the energy and commitment needed to be a great NRL coach.”
Smith went underground following Melbourne’s grand final win last October, relocating to the Gold Coast with his family as he mulled over his future.
With the Titans and Broncos open to signing him, Smith had the opportunity to continue his NRL career but ultimately could not see himself playing against the Storm.
“A major factor was remaining a one-club player,” Smith said.
“I always had a thought I wanted to be a one-club player, not knowing that’s how it would pan out.
“I was able to play at the Storm for 19 seasons and enjoy a lot of success on the field. I gained a lot of great memories and friends from the time I spent here.
“The next step is that I let the dust settle and work out what to do.
“It felt like the right time to finish on the back of what was a very successful season. You couldn’t ask for more than finishing with a premiership.”